- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Troubled in love, prison inmate Garry Owens wrote a suicide note with a suicide-resistant pen, then asphyxiated himself with a bedsheet laced through his jail cell window.

Owens was the fifth Ohio prisoner to kill himself this year, following a record 11 deaths in 2004 and four in 2003.

Ohio, Connecticut and Iowa have dealt recently with spikes in inmate suicides. Prison systems have responded by ordering more frequent guard patrols, replacing lace-up shoes with slippers, increasing the recreation time for prisoners in mental health units and removing fixtures in cells that inmates could use to hang themselves.

State officials in Connecticut also asked courts, prosecutors and police to tell prisons more about an incoming inmate’s mental health.

“Some of the people that end up committing suicide show very little in terms of indicators,” prisons spokesman Brian Garnett said. “The more you can delve in what’s in their head and their background, the better chance you have of protecting them.”

In Connecticut, where jails and prisons are operated under the same system, there have been 14 suicides since April 2004, including five this year. The most recent was July 24, when a 17-year-old hanged himself at Manson Youth Institution, the state’s high-security prison for boys and men ages 14 to 21.

Four inmates committed suicide in two years in Iowa on a new unit for mentally ill prisoners, raising immediate concerns since the unit was meant to improve life for such inmates, said Dr. Ed O’Brien, Corrections Department medical director.

Among several changes, the prison system began checking suicidal inmates every five minutes instead of every 15 minutes, searching cells for material inmates could use to attempt suicide and training staff to better recognize suicidal behavior.

Consultants caution prison systems against letting their guard down against suicides.

“You’re constantly putting out fires, dealing with one crisis after another, so after a period of time, when inmate suicides are no longer a daily concern or a daily crisis, then a system will turn to something else that happens to be on the front burner,” said Lindsay Hayes, a prisons consultant Ohio hired last year.

Officials at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility say Owens, 31, was distraught over the end of a relationship with another inmate and his death was probably not preventable. One guard was fired and two more are being investigated for whether they monitored him closely enough.

In 2002, 166 inmates in state prisons committed suicide, or about 5 percent of the 3,101 inmate deaths that year, according to the most recent data available from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 6 percent of inmate deaths in 2001 were suicides.

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