Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: Alarming statistics show that Massachusetts tops the list of the highest rate of prisoner and correctional officer suicides of any state in the country. This bill would establish a commission tasked with the review of suicide prevention programs, development of new program initiatives, identification of fiscal priorities and recommendation of best practices that could be implemented to reduce the instances of prisoner and correctional officer suicide and attempted suicides.
Recent concerns about the detrimental effects prisoner and correctional officers suffer during long term contact with dangerous offenders have escalated after a number of high profile cases of suicide in Massachusetts drew attention to the issue. Statistics released by the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office indicate an alarming rate of suicides involving prison and jail guards. Unfortunately, little national research exists to document the struggles prisoners and correctional officers face every day, with the exception of a few high profile cases that highlight the need for intervention and reform of state law enforcement. In one such study published in the Archives of Suicide Research, the risk of suicide among corrections officers is 39 percent higher than the rest of the working population. That study was published in 1997. But authorities said there is evidence that the mental and physical health risks to the officers remain severe.
Why This Matters: As Massachusetts faces a grim suicide epidemic among its prisoners and correctional officers, health officials and law enforcement are forced to brainstorm new ways to address the range of mental and physical health risks that lead them to make these fatal decisions. In 2011, a study of 3,599 correctional officers, researchers concluded that 44% experienced some varying degree of post-traumatic stress disorder and 27% experienced full PTSD. Establishing a commission to address and brainstorm solutions to curb the soaring rate of prisoner and correctional officer suicide and direct fiscal priorities to provide greater access to mental health services and improve suicide prevention programs.
What this Bill Would Do: Faced with an influx of mentally ill inmates and hardened criminals takes its toll on everyone in the criminal justice system. No one should be forgotten on either side of the bars. This bill establishes a commission to examine strategies and implement best practices to reduce the instance of suicide rates among prisoners and correctional officers. Drawing attention to this critical issue could also lead to additional research and studies conducted to call attention to prisoner and correctional officer wellness needs.
View the full text of the bill and track its summary here.