Sheriff opens up about inmate suicides

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - On any given day there are around 850 inmates housed at the Harrison County jail. Inmates must be inside their cells at night, but during the day many choose to hang out in the common room.

An officer monitors the inmates from a room above and another one makes the rounds. At night every cell window must be checked.

"General population, we check on them every 30 minutes to an hour," Sheriff Melvin Brisolara said.

When the room is checked the officer presses a button on the outside of the door. The sheriff said the inmate who committed suicide this week had been checked on just 40 minutes before he was found hanging from his bed.

"Somebody here who really wants to commit suicide; it's going to be very hard to stop. Someone that has some indications on how to do it can pull it off as quick as eight seconds," Brisolara said.

According to The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, 93 percent of inmates who commit suicide do it by hanging themselves and 66 percent of those use bed sheets.

"Unless the person gives you a sign or tells you he has some kind of issues, what are you going to do. We can't take sheets away from everyone in this facility unless we have a reason," Brisolara said.

Since 2008 there have been 243 attempted suicides and six suicides in the Harrison County Jail.

"The officers are doing their job to the best of their ability so I think what we have in place is working," Brisolara said.

The only way Brisolara thinks officers can do a better job is if deputies can get a complete medical history on every inmate.

"When you are running a jail you can't get the information you should be able to get. Inmates when they give you some of their background some of it is not true. So you have got to be very cautious," Brisolara said.

If there is any indication an inmate may be suicidal they are put on suicide watch.

"We visually look at them every ten minutes to check on them," Brisolara said. "Then we have a step down once we feel they are getting a little bit better they go into a step down unit and the step down unit they are watched every 30 minutes."

"It's a sad thing, there is no way you are going to stop it 100 percent. If someone is determined to commit suicide they are going to do it," Brisolara said.

Jackson County has had one inmate commit suicide since 2008, not at the jail, but while the prisoner was at a substation for court. Hancock County has not had any suicides in the jail since the new facility was opened last year, but both jails have had several inmates attempt suicide.

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