Senate Public Safety Committee Passes Leyva Bill Addressing High Suicide Rates at State Prisons

SB 960 Improves Inmate Safety and Increases Transparency

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Earlier today, the Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously approved SB 960 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) which would ensure that state prisons in California promptly inform an inmate’s listed family member or contact person following the inmate’s serious illness/injury or death, including attempted suicide.
SB 960 would specifically require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to notify the contact person of an inmate of the occurrence within 24 hours. The bill also requires CDCR to annually report to the State Legislature on its efforts to prevent and respond to inmate suicide.
In 2017, the California State Auditor noted several state prisons’ deficiencies related to suicide response and prevention. The Auditor’s investigation found that state prisons have failed to monitor at-risk inmates, complete behavioral risk evaluations and treatment plans, and did not have staff complete required trainings related to suicide prevention and response. The audit also highlighted that, from 2005 through 2013, the average suicide rate in CDCR’s prisons (22 per 100,000 inmates) was considerably higher than the average rate of 15.66 per 100,000 in U.S. state prisons.

“It is disturbing that, for years, California prison suicide rates have been higher on average than those across the country. California prisons must clearly take affirmative steps to make sure that inmates receive the care and services they need to prevent injuries and deaths—and particularly suicide,” Senator Leyva stated. “SB 960 will ensure that prison officials notify family members and loved ones promptly when an inmate attempts or commits suicide or is otherwise seriously sick or injured.  While in custody, inmates must receive the mental health and other services they need to keep them safe and healthy.  I thank my colleagues on the Senate Public Safety Committee for approving this bill that promotes greater transparency and affirms California’s commitment to reversing the troubling high rate of suicides in state prisons.”

According to the state audit released last year, CDCR 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.

In response to the State Auditor’s findings, SB 960 would strengthen the ability of CDCR to properly implement suicide prevention policies through reporting and legislative oversight. The required legislative report would keep the department focused on improving regulations and procedures while at the same time allow the Legislature to closely monitor how they have improved and where additional steps are still needed. SB 960 is essential to ensure that prisons are properly treating their inmates who are at risk of suicide.

SB 960 is supported by the California Catholic Conference, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Prison Focus, California Public Defenders Association, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Fair Chance Project, National Association of Social Workers—California Chapter and the Steinberg Institute.

Following today’s approval by the Senate Public Safety Committee, SB 960 will next be considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee.