Senate Passes Leyva Bill Addressing High Suicide Rates at State Prisons

SB 960 Addresses Troubling Audit Findings Related to Inmate Suicides

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate today passed legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will 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.

Specifically, SB 960 would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to notify the contact person of an inmate of the occurrence within 24 hours. The measure also requires CDCR to annually report to the Legislature on its efforts to prevent and respond to inmate suicides and attempted suicides.

In 2017, the California State Auditor noted several state prisons’ deficiencies related to suicide response and prevention in an audit requested by Senator Leyva. 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.

“The disturbing findings in the State Auditor’s report underscore the greater need for transparency, training and overall focus on inmate suicides. Incarcerated persons must have access to proper care within the prison so that we can minimize the risk of them harming themselves or others and family members deserve to know promptly if and when their loved one has been hurt or died while in custody. Women are at increased risk of suicide while in prison, so it is crucial that prisons also provide them with the necessary support so that they can stay safe while incarcerated,” Senator Leyva said. “SB 960 is an important step in resolving many of the deficiencies noted in the State Auditor’s report as we continue to emphasize the importance of keeping all inmates safe during their incarceration.

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 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, County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Fair Chance Project, National Alliance on Mental Illness-California, National Association of Social Workers / California Chapter and the Steinberg Institute.

Following today’s approval by the State Senate, SB 960 will next advance to the Assembly for consideration.