Mississippi Jail Suicide Cases

A 2014 article in The Clarion-Ledger in October 2014, claimed the state of Mississippi ranked near the top for inmate deaths. In 2011, Daniel Cottrell committed suicide in his cell at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian. Cottrell, 26, was six years into his twenty-year sentence for racketeering. From the time Cottrell entered state custody in 2005, until he hanged himself in 2011, 373 other state inmates also lost their lives, making the prison mortality rate of Mississippi one of the highest in the nation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2007 Mississippi had the highest prison mortality rate, with 454 deaths per 100,000 inmates.

While a large number of these deaths were related to health problems, such as cancer and heart attack, approximately 7 percent are the result of preventable violence or suicide. Cottrell had warned prison officials on more than one occasion that he feared for his life, and, in fact, the day Cottrell hanged himself he had asked the guards to move him to a safer location, but his request was denied. Cottrell even submitted a sick call request, stating clearly he meant to kill himself, however prison officials did not see the request until days after Cottrell committed suicide. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this story, is that even though another inmate told staff that Cottrell was hanging himself, nobody bothered to go check on him until at least ten minutes after the alert—and by that time, Cottrell was dead.

The ACLU said there were “urgent problems” at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, alleging deplorable conditions and inhumane treatment, which contributed to the suicide of many inmates, including Cottrell. As troubling as Cottrell’s story is, perhaps just as troubling is that for every one in seven inmates who die at the facility, there is no cause of death listed. The cause of death simply says “pending,” or “unknown.”

In October 2014, a 51-year old inmate at the Jackson County Adult Detention Center committed suicide, hanging himself in his jail cell. In July 2015, police claimed two young women committed suicide by hanging, after being arrested on relatively minor charges. One of the young women was arrested for her civil rights activism and asserting her rights at a traffic stop. While the young woman was waiting for bail, she was found hung, in her cell, although jailors say she was “fine” at 6:30, and hung by her bedsheet at 7:50. The same week, an 18-year old was arrested over an argument about a cell phone, and booked into the Homewood City Jail. A short while later, the young woman was also found dead in her cell, apparently from hanging herself with a bedsheet.

According to the Washington Post, jail suicides are “disturbingly frequent, and often hard to explain.” There was a considerable amount of media coverage in the mid 90’s, regarding the number of inmates found hanging in their cells across the state of Mississippi. Steven Hayne, the controversial medical examiner who performed some 80-90 percent of Mississippi autopsies for more than two decades, determined the deaths in the Mississippi jails were suicides. Unfortunately, many people did not believe his conclusions were trustworthy. The cases were reviewed many years later, and some, were in fact, suicides. When you consider some statistics, perhaps this is not as uncommon as we believe.

  • The rate of jail suicides in 2011, was 43 per 100,000 inmates, however this figure is down from 1986, when it was 107 suicides per 100,000 inmates.
  • Unfortunately, from 2009 to 2011, the suicide rates of those in jail was up 18 percent.
  • The rate of jail suicides is oddly three times the rate of prison suicides.
  • Three out of four of those who committed suicide in jail during the mid-1980’s were facing non-violent charges.
  • Even the Bureau of Justice says that one-fifth of those who commit suicide in jail are not facing serious charges—and are not diagnosed as mentally ill.
  • White people, rather surprisingly to most, are three times more likely to kill themselves in jail then are black people.

There is also a theory that inmates who are judged as suicide risks may be treated worse by guards and jailors, because they are seen as a burden. These inmates were treated more harshly than other inmates, and while it might keep them from hurting themselves over the short term, once these inmates are taken off suicide watch, they may be more psychologically traumatized. All in all, it may be an issue that jail personnel need to see inmates as human beings rather than just as inmates.

If your loved one in Olive Branch, Horn Lake, Desoto County or Southaven committed suicide while in the Desoto County jail or other Mississippi detention facility, and you believe the jail personnel may have been negligent, contact the Stroud Law Firm. We can investigate the matter, and, if necessary, file a wrongful death claim on your behalf. Our attorneys understand the pain you are in, and will help you get to the bottom of what happened and obtain justice on behalf of your loved one. Call the Stroud Law Firm today at (662) 536-5656.