Sheriff hires expert to study jail suicides

Feb 3, 2023

A nationally-recognized expert on preventing suicides in jails has will begin looking into ways to reduce death in facilities in Dartmouth and New Bedford beginning next month, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office announced Feb. 2.

Lindsay M. Hayes, a former Mansfield resident, has reviewed and examined more than 3,800 cases of suicide in correctional facilities throughout the country for more than 42 years. 

Hayes will be paid $16,800 to conduct the study. Funds will come from the sheriff’s office operational budget.

He also served as a suicide prevention consultant to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

“Three different corrections professionals recommended Lindsay, and it is easy to see why, based on his qualifications and the conversations we’ve had,” Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux said in a statement. 

Reducing suicides at the jails was one of Heroux’s top policy priority’s during his campaign for sheriff.

Suicides at the Dartmouth jail have been at the center of statewide discussion for years. 

According to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, at least 16 people died by suicide between 2006 and 2017 while in the custody of the Bristol County House of Correction — the highest number in the state correctional system during that period.

In 2018, then-state Attorney General Maura Healey (who is now the governor) asked the state to investigate the jail following a series of lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s office. 

In those lawsuits, inmates alleged those placed in suicide watch units face poor conditions, including small units, limited time outside of the segregation cells, denial of social, recreational, educational, and rehabilitation programs, and a filthy and noisy environment.

One former inmate in a 2021 interview with Dartmouth Week said he was kept naked and in solitary confinement for four days because he was deemed suicidal. He also said that guards tend to be very relaxed with their duties, with many failing to do proper check-ins with those on suicide watch. 

“Nothing makes a person want to commit suicide in jail like being on suicide watch,” the former inmate said.

The sheriff’s office disputes these claims.

Three deaths were reported in the jails in 2021.

Just two days after Heroux was sworn into office, an inmate died of a suspected suicide at the Dartmouth jail.

“We have a blind spot somewhere when it comes to inmate suicides,” Heroux said. “One of my top priorities is to locate and close that loophole to make our correctional facilities as safe as possible for our inmates and our staff.”

As part of his work, Hayes will study training at the sheriff’s office, screening, communication, housing, supervision, intervention, reporting and follow-up/mortality review. 

He will then produce a written report detailing his findings, conclusions and recommendations, the sheriff’s office said.

According to the sheriff’s office, Hayes will start reviewing documents and policies relating to inmate suicides over the next few weeks and will start on-site observation and interviews over the next month.