Protecting Evil: Suicide Watch


Jails and prisons have the responsibility of protecting the general public by keeping bad guys behind bars. They’re also responsible for the safety of the prisoners.

Inmates face many dangers during their incarceration, such as assaults of all types. They also have a fairly high suicide attempt rate, a leading cause of jail deaths. The rate of prison suicide is slightly higher than the rate in the community.

Once a prisoner has been identified as suicidal, officers take immediate action. They isolate the inmate from others and take away anything the inmate could use to harm himself, including clothing. Officers closely monitor the inmate’s activities and actions.

While on suicide watch inmates may be issued special smocks instead of normal jail clothing. The smocks are tear-proof and much too bulky to make a noose for hanging. They’re fastened with wide, heavy-duty Velcro.


Safety smock


Safe mattresses contain built-in pillows.


Special cells with heavily padded walls are often used to house suicidal inmates.

The ability to make weapons from everyday items has always been a problem in prisons and jails, especially for suicidal inmates. Therefore, manufacturers have developed special products, such as:


Safety razors (yes, inmates are issued razors)




Flexible (non-rigid) ink pens


Safety mirrors

6 replies
  1. Elena
    Elena says:

    Hey Lee,
    I’m not shooting the messenger. You’re one of my favorite dudes. Between my own dealings with PTSD, as well as working with Nam vets who were both PTSD and substance abusers, then going on as a probation officer and seeing who really is in jail. Half my case load were people who needed therapy, but because they were poor they wound up in jail instead. I am not friendly with the mistreatment and cultural bias against people with emotional/mental problems. These problems are not crimes they are tragedies.

    It’s the old thing, you break a leg and get a lot of attention. You break your soul and get garlic thrown at you. It’s time to take a good hard look at prevention. I think I’ll stop here, it’s my hobby horse because it’s my life. I was one of the lucky ones with the resources to have what is available in the way of therapy, but even that leaves open wounds.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Elena and Rhonda – I was much too soft-hearted to work in the prison and jail system. I got out as fast as my feet could carry me. Unfortunately, that was after a few years.

    The isolation alone is enough to drive a sane person to the edge of their mental capacity. One of things truly sad aspects of prison is the way many inmates are medicated as a means of controlling “bad” behavior. The line at pill call looks like the first morning of a Nintendo Wii sale.

    Hey Elena. Please don’t shoot the messenger. I just post information. Actually, I normally don’t voice my opinion at all, but you made me this time. 🙂

  3. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    I can’t imagine what wearing one of those padded smocks might do to me mentally, if I’m already feeling worthless. I understand the logic behind it. But I imagine that, if a jail has one of those things, they’d have just a few. Are they cleanable? I’m sure they’d be stained after a while.

  4. Elena
    Elena says:

    The entire process, especially the isolation only serves to intensify the emotional turmoil already there. Then the determined ones wait until they are out and that’s it. As a probation officer I was involved in a number of that sort of suicides, and I still get angry at the idea that a person screaming for help just gets treatment guaranteed to make them worse.

    It’s a difficult problem, and an expensive one, but padded everything and isolation INHO is inhumane. A violation of our constitution.

    On the other side, I’ve not heard of these items being in contemporary use. The jails I dealt with and know about drug the life out of these prisoners to remove any will of their own. It’s no better, just different.

    Sorry for the rant, but I’m still upset. I’ve seen too many suicides of poor slobs who were incarcerated for such crimes as being homeless.

Comments are closed.