Ariel Castro and the Reality of Suicide Behind Bars

He had the perfect profile for a prisoner suicide. 

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REUTERS

Late Tuesday night, Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man convicted of kidnapping, imprisoning, and repeatedly assaulting three women over the course of a decade, hanged himself in his cell.

While it may seem surprising that a high-profile prisoner like Castro was able to take his own life, keeping inmates from killing themselves is actually difficult. In prisons, suicide outpaces homicide 3-1; in jails, the ratio is 17-1. Castro was being held at a facility between the two, where he was, according to Reuters, "undergoing a series of mental and physical evaluations before being transferred to a more permanent lockup." 

What leads to inmate suicide? As Chris Opfer wrote in August, correctional facilities often aren't equipped to assess or address the mental health issues affecting inmates. Another problem is the impact of isolating prisoners. Castro, who both claimed to be mentally ill and was kept away from other prisoners in "protective custody," fit the profile of a successful prisoner suicide. 

Another factor may be that Castro wasn't under enough supervision. Prisoners on suicide watch are supervised 24/7, but guards checked on Castro only every 30 minutes. (The D.C. jail system, which has an unusually high suicide rate, just switched from conducting check-ups every 30 minutes to every 15.) 

Lastly, his death could have resulted from plain old apathy. His crimes were monstrous, and it's reasonable to expect his jailers may have had even less sympathy for him than the jury or the judge who sentenced him to over 1,000 years in prison. Not to mention, apathy toward prisoner suicide isn't exactly unprecedented. When a federal monitor assigned to address California's prison suicide rate up and quit earlier this year, he explained it was because his recommendations went "unheeded, year after year."

Top image: Ariel Castro, 53, sits in the courtroom during his sentencing for kidnapping, rape and murder in Cleveland, Ohio August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

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