ACI officials work to prevent prison suicide

By Bianca Buono

bbuono@abc6.com

@BBuonoABC6

According to numbers from the Bureau of Justice, Rhode Island has the highest rate of prison suicide in the nation. The study says there were 21 from 2001 to 2014.

"This is an issue that the Rhode Island Department of Corrections has been looking at for the past five years,” said Louis Cerbo, the Director of Behavioral Health at the State Department of Corrections.

Cerbo believes that suicide statistic in Rhode Island is flawed due to the state’s small number of inmates. Still, he admits prison suicide is a very serious concern.

"I think because of the mental health issue being infused into the correctional system it’s becoming more and more of an issue,” Cerbo explained.

Cerbo says there are close to 3,000 inmates at the ACI. On average, approximately 1 percent is placed on some form of suicide watch. He also added at least 15 percent of inmates have a serious mental illness.

"The prison system has become the state psychiatric hospital,” Cerbo said.

Cells where inmates on suicide watch are held have several precautions. The beds have no sharp edges, the windows are small, the toilet shuts off after being flushed three times, and inmates are given a tear-proof smock to wear. Plus, they’re constantly being watched.

"In addition to that we also have yearly training of our staff,” Cerbo said.

While all 970 correctional officers are trained on suicide prevention, Cerbo says ultimately, there’s only so much they can do.

"You just cannot predict human nature,” he said.

In the last two and a half years, there has been one suicide at the ACI and it happened earlier this year.

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