JACKSON, Tenn. (AP, abc24.com) - There's no consistent system of record-keeping to review the number of inmate suicides at jails in West Tennessee, according to a newspaper review.
The Jackson Sun reported that when it attempted to review the number of inmate suicides at several jails in the region, some jails did not respond while others said they couldn't access data before 2010 and some relied on the memory of jail employees.
The newspaper made the request after Jonathan Lee Carter killed himself in December in the Madison County Jail. Records examined by the newspaper showed proper procedure wasn't followed by jailers who were supposed to be monitoring Carter.
Michele Deitch is an expert in prison policy and a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas. She said there's a wide-ranging problem with transparency and public accountability at jails.
"I think the public has a right to demand that there be reports, publicly accessible reports," Deitch said.
County sheriffs and jail administrators in the counties of Benton, Chester, Decatur, Gibson, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson and Weakley said they haven't had a suicide in the last decade.
McNairy County Sheriff Guy Buck said he couldn't find any record of a suicide there in the past 10 years, though employees remembered one suicide in the 1990s.
Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork said Carter's suicide was one of four reported there in the last decade.
Carroll County Sheriff Andy Dickson said he remembered one suicide, but declined to look up the requested records, saying his administration had higher priorities.
Deitch questioned how effective suicide-prevention policies could be without accurate histories of inmate suicides.
"I would think that in order for a jail to come up with policies and procedures, it would really help them to understand the scope of their problem," Deitch said.
Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com