By Jason Fagone and Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 2019
The suicide rate inside California prisons, long one of the highest among the nation’s largest prison systems, jumped to a new peak in 2018 and remains elevated in 2019, despite decades of effort by federal courts and psychiatric experts to fix a system they say is broken and putting lives at risk, a Chronicle investigation has found.
Last year, an average of three California inmates killed themselves each month in state cells — 34 total suicides in a system with 129,000 inmates. That amounts to an annual rate of 26.3 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest rate in California since at least 2006.
That figure is higher than the national average for state prisons (20 per 100,000 in 2014) and federal prisons (14.7 in 2018, according to the Washington Post). From 2001 to 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, twice as many people killed themselves in California cells than in the entire federal system, which contains more prisons and inmates. There were 448 total suicides in California prisons during that period and 222 in federal prisons.