Since 2006, at least 14 Mississippians have died after being placed in jail during a civil commitment process, a common practice in the state that is purportedly for their own safety and used because many county officials see no other option when publicly funded mental health facilities are unavailable, Isabelle Taft and Mollie Simon report for ProPublica and Mississippi Today. Nine died by suicide and twelve had not been charged with a crime.
Before 11 of the deaths, the medical care and suicide prevention measures fell short of national standards, sometimes shockingly so, according to experts and a review of those standards. Before most of the nine suicides, staff didn’t take some basic steps to prevent people from killing themselves and when people going through the commitment process exhibited serious medical issues, jail staff didn’t get them the help they needed. Experts say jails not only fail to guarantee safety for people with serious mental illness, they can be particularly dangerous for them. A law passed in 2009 requiring jails to meet state standards if they hold people awaiting psychiatric treatment has resulted in just one jail that’s certified among the 71 that detained about 800 such people in the year ending in June 2023. At least six of the nine people who killed themselves weren’t screened at all or underwent screenings that didn’t meet national standards.