Committee OK's Bill to Address Suicide Among Correction Officers and Prisoners

Friday, March 25, 2016

Here’s a thumbs-up to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Last week, the committee rightly gave a favorable report to Senate Bill 1284 mandating a study of how to keep prisoners and correction officers from taking their own lives. Every human life is of inestimable value.
The bill, sponsored by Acton state senator Jamie Eldridge, would set up a 10-member commission whose responsibilities would include:

  • Examining and evaluating the state of jail and prison suicide prevention policies
  • Examining and evaluating suicide prevention training for correctional facility staff
  • Providing recommendations to improve observation and treatment plans for inmates identified as suicidal
  • Examining how prisons and jails can reduce stress, anxiety and depression among correction officers
Such study and evaluation are long overdue.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported that, between 2009 and 2013, there were 20 suicides in the state of persons whose occupations were listed as correction officers. 

Based on the 2012 figures, the suicide rate for correction officers is six times that of the general Massachusetts population.
There are more disturbing facts.  A 2013 U.S. Department of Justice’s Programs Diagnostic Center Study found that: (a) all corrections officers suffer from some degree of post-traumatic disorder during their careers, and (b) corrections officers, on average, do not live past the age of 58.  (That's 20 years lower than the lifespan of the average white male in the U.S. today.) 

Back in 2012, I wrote a post arguing it was time to create a monument to correction officers on Beacon Hill because we need to be reminded that they serve on the front lines of public safety, just like police officers and firefighters, who are honored by impressive monuments just steps from the doors of the State House.  If you wish, you may find that at:

Alas, no groundswell for a C.O. monument resulted.  I’m giving it another try...
I mean no disrespect for police officers or firefighters.  I’m glad they have those monuments.  They deserve them.   Totally.

But I do not know anyone who would answer correction officer if he or she were asked, “If you had to take one of only three jobs – police officer, firefighter or correction officer – which would it be?”  Do you?

I believe that, if we thought more (and more often) about what correction officers go through to earn a living for themselves and their families, we’d want to do more to take good care of them and help them live longer, happier lives.  A monument for them at the State House would serve to inspire thinking along those lines.
Let’s credit Senator Eldridge and the co-sponsors of SB 1254: Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester, and Representatives Jennifer Benson of Lunenberg, Gloria Fox of Boston and Sean Garballey of Arlington.  Kudos, too, to Senator Jim Timilty of Walpole and Rep. Hank Naughton of Clinton, who chair the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, for pushing through that favorable report on SB 1254.  

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