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Ariel Castro death: How common is suicide among prison inmates? (+video)

Inmates in state prisons are less likely to commit suicide than are those held in local jails. Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was not under a suicide watch when he hanged himself in an Ohio prison, and apparently had not had an independent psychological examination.

Ariel Castro's cousin, Maria Castro Montes, talked to CNN about her reaction to the news of his suicide
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Suicides are relatively rare events in state prisons, but the hanging death of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro in an Ohio state prison is refocusing scrutiny on how prisoners are evaluated for doing harm to themselves or to others.

Suicides by prisoners in state prisons have jumped 10 percent between 2001-11, peaking in 2006 with 219 such deaths, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. They accounted for 5.5 percent of state prison deaths in 2011. 

Overall, prisoner deaths in state prisons over the last decade have increased nearly 17 percent to 3,353 in 2011. The overwhelming cause of death is illness.

State prisoners are less likely to commit suicide than are those incarcerated in local jails, where suicides represented 35 percent of deaths in 2011. The reason is that state prisoners are more assimilated to their environment and resigned to their sentences, whereas those in county jails are newcomers and are more uncertain of their fates, says Lindsay Hayes, project director for the National Center on Institutions & Alternatives, in Mansfield, Mass.,

“They are individuals right from the street and who have just been arrested. They are highly agitated and are coming into an environment new. To them, the fear of incarceration, the unknown aspect of how long they will stay there, the uncertainty of their charges – these are all factors where a reaction could be suicide,” Mr. Hayes says.

Mr. Castro was sentenced in August to life in prison plus 1,000 years for the decade-long kidnapping and torture of three women. The story attracted international attention for the systemic abuse that Castro inflicted over that time, and his insistence, expressed during his sentencing, that he was a loving father to a daughter he conceived by rape by one of the women, plus his claim that he was trying to maintain “a normal family.”

During the investigation, Cuyahoga County prosecutors said a suicide note and confession penned by Castro was found at his home. He was placed under suicide watch after his arrest, but it is uncertain if the watch was lifted once he was found competent to stand trial.


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