The suicides of two inmates at a Barnstable County jail have sparked an investigation and raised questions of how to prevent similar cases in the future.
The two incidents occurred weeks apart, in June and July. On June 18, William Jarosiewicz, 21, committed suicide at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, according to the office of Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings.
Three weeks later, on July 9, Jessica DiCesare, 35, attempted suicide at the jail and was taken to Falmouth Hospital. She was later taken to a Boston hospital, where she died on July 11.
The office of Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe is investigating both deaths. A spokeswoman for O’Keefe had no comment Tuesday.
Suicides in jail are a rare, but growing, problem, Cummings said. He said he did not believe the recent deaths were suspicious or even surprising, despite their proximity in time.
“I’m hoping that this was just a fluke and they happened close together, and we go another 10, 15 years without having to deal with this again,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that there is a constant threat that inmates might try to hurt themselves.
“Last year, we had 69 attempts,” Cummings said. “It’s an ongoing issue.”
“We’ve done everything we can to take away opportunities for suicide,” he said. “Every once in a while, you just miss somebody.”
Some examples of the preventive measures at the jail in Bourne include hundreds of cameras placed throughout the facility, recessed ceiling fixtures, and clothing hangers that collapse under a 40-pound load, he said.
Inmates are seen by the jail medical staff upon arriving and asked about self-harm and depression, and guards work to keep an eye on those who might hurt themselves.
Cummings said he believes suicides might be increasing because jails are housing a greater number of mentally ill people — and more people with drug addiction problems.
“I think the population in general, we just seem to be getting more and more people who have mental health issues,” he said. And “they end up getting sent to a correctional facility.”
“We’re not built as a mental health facility,” he said.
New members of the jail staff receive three days of mental health training before starting work, and all current staff undergo eight hours of refresher training on mental health annually to keep them up to speed on the jail’s evolving challenges.
The jail offers help for inmates dealing with drug problems through a substance abuse treatment program and detoxification for inmates, but the process can be tough for participants to get through.
“We’re detoxing a lot of people and it can be a real trying experience,” Cummings said.
Even before the two suicides, Cummings had been concerned about the issue. He publishes a monthly column on his website, and in June he penned a piece discussing the issues of mental health and addiction in America’s jails, and the associated risk of suicide.
“Not only are correctional officials required to keep the public safe from our most dangerous criminals, we are also expected to be de facto mental health hospitals and addiction treatment centers,” Cummings wrote in the column.
“No one likes to see these things happen at their jails,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not a good thing, and we’ll continue to do our best to find ways to prevent it. It’s a tough time for everybody; the staff really takes these things to heart.”
With no increase in sight in funding for treatment for addiction and mental health issues, though, Cummings said, “There’s no winners.”