Senator Leyva Introduces Legislation To Address High Suicide Rates At State Prisons

SB 960 Improves Inmate Safety, Prison Accountability and Transparency

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Earlier today, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) introduced important legislation requiring the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to report annually to the State Legislature on its efforts to prevent and respond to inmate suicide.

In August 2017, the California State Auditor released an audit report detailing state prisons’ deficiencies in responding to suicidal inmates. The investigation found that state prisons have failed to complete required behavioral risk evaluations, create plans for treatment, monitor at-risk inmates, and train staff on suicide prevention and response. The audit also determined that CDCR may have been aware of deficiencies for several years but did not address them.

“The State Auditor’s troubling findings from last year highlight the crucial need for greater transparency from our state prisons related to inmate suicides. It is unacceptable that prisoners who are likely to commit suicide or have attempted suicide would ever be neglected or not offered the services they need. We must make sure that prisons follow through with simple and sensible actions such as conducting routine inmate checks-ups and assuring that mental health staff are trained on suicide watch,” Senator Leyva said. “Just because a person serves time in prison does not mean that they should not have access to mental health services or receive proper care to help prevent suicidal behavior or tendencies. SB 960 will help ensure that inmates are treated humanely and given the proper mental health care and support needed while incarcerated by requiring CDCR to provide annual reports to the Legislature.”

Currently, suicide prevention and response measures are crafted and implemented by CDCR. However, according to the state audit released last year, the department has not properly implemented policies and procedures, a factor which may have contributed to the recent rise in female inmate suicides. In 2012, women accounted for five percent of CDCR’s inmate population and four percent of its suicides. From 2014 to 2016, they made up four percent of the inmate population but accounted for 11 percent of suicides. SB 960 seeks to ensure that CDCR properly evaluates and treats at-risk inmates by requiring the department to submit an annual report to the State Legislature detailing its efforts related to inmate suicide. The annual report will allow the Legislature to monitor CDCR's progress and determine what improvements are needed.

SB 960 will soon be assigned to the appropriate Senate policy committee(s) for consideration.