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Suicides Plague North Carolina Prison System

Four suicides occurred in North Carolina state prisons during a 17-day period from April 19 to May 5, 2016, bringing the total number of self-inflicted prisoner deaths to five this year and surpassing last year’s total of three. An investigation by The Charlotte Observer found several guards had been fired for skipping observation rounds, but did not determine if those lapses had contributed to the recent spate of suicides.

State prison officials reported 68 suicides in the 25 years prior to 2015 – an average of around 2.7 per year – and Prisons Commissioner W. David Guice noted the department generally does a good job of preventing such incidents. He said in a statement that “the number of suicide deaths is greatly outnumbered by successful interventions.” Disturbingly, however, several of the deaths occurred in segregation units, where prison policy requires close supervision.

Critics have questioned whether prison officials are doing enough to protect prisoners from self-harm. “These are restrictive units where there is supposed to be a tremendous amount of observation. There is no excuse. Where are the cameras?” said Elizabeth Forbes, director of NC CURE, a criminal justice reform group.

In July 2016, state officials announced a plan to train prison employees to recognize prisoners in need of suicide intervention, with the training to begin on September 1, 2016. This is a small step toward acknow­ledging serious mental health issues that are a matter of life and death for prisoners, including Scott Sica, Tony J. Davis, Lori Pote, Steven Hass and Bernard Sanford, who all took their lives in North Carolina prisons so far this year.

Sources: The Charlotte Observer,

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