REUTERS

He had the perfect profile for a prisoner suicide. 

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

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Videos

    5 Ways to Seriously Battle Traffic

    So long as cars are among us, road pricing, ramp meters, diamond-shaped intersections can mitigate horrendous commutes, a new video explains.

  2. Design

    The Rivers of the U.S., Collected Into a Nifty Subway Map

    A designer who spent his youth floating on rafts has conjured up a delightful transit guide to America’s waterways.

  3. An empty storefront on a sidewalk with a "retail space for lease" sign in the window
    Life

    How Cities Can Save Small Shops

    Some places are already taking action, but New York City is lagging behind. Here’s a blueprint for keeping local retail healthy.

  4. Transportation

    5 Reasons to Be Wary of Elon Musk's Hyperloop

    High-speed vactrains might be the ticket for a Martian colony. As a practical transit investment for Earth, the technology has a long way to go.

  5. An illustration of a grid of canned food
    Equity

    What's the Matter With Little Free Food Pantries?

    They highlight food insecurity, without doing much to take a bite out of it.