Suicide Precautions Inadequate, Report Finds

Monitor says Mississippi hasn’t done enough at state training schools

By Jimmie E. Gates
Clarion Ledger
Thursday, May 1, 2008


Precautions to prevent suicides at Mississippi’s two juvenile training schools are inadequate, according to a report by a monitor appointed to ensure the state makes court-ordered improvements.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate signed off on a plan for Oakley Training School in Raymond and Columbia Training School to fix problems cited by the monitor’s report.

In May 2005, Mississippi entered a four-year decree to end a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over abuse allegations at the two facilities for delinquent youth.

But the Justice Department says that, despite the state’s efforts, Mississippi has failed to comply with most provisions of the consent decree.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the Justice Department and the state submitted an order to Wingate to approve the monitor’s suicide prevention action plan.

The order says: “Youths lives are endangered by the lack of an adequate system of suicide prevention guided by professional standards and implemented by qualified mental health professionals.”

Lindsay Hayes, the court monitor for suicide prevention, found officials are not implementing and documenting appropriate levels of suicide- prevention supervision for youths at Oakley and Columbia.

Youth records at the training schools omit information such as shift logs documenting the direct care staff supervision of suicidal youths, the reason for the youths’ placement on suicide precautions, individualized precautions required, steps required for removal of youths from suicide precautions, and documentation of the suicidal youths’ mental health status as revealed by their interviews with counselors and/or the facility psychiatrist.

The state has a suicide prevention-plan that was revised earlier this year, but the Justice Department said it needed further revisions.

Existing state policy requires potentially suicidal youths to sign a no-suicide contract, but Hayes said: “The use of no-suicide contracts are dangerous because they allow clinicians to fall under a false sense of security that they are effective in preventing suicides, whereas the opposite is true. Most individuals that commit suicide had previously given assurance that they were not suicidal.”

Justice Department attorney Tammi Simpson and Mississippi Assistant Attorney General Shawn Shurden asked Wingate for 30 additional days for a plan to be submitted to the court.

Simpson has said in court documents that after negotiations, the parties agreed to extend the agreement to May 31, 2010. The agreement would have expired in May of next year.

Department of Human Services Executive Director Don Taylor couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

DHS oversees the training schools.

Oakley serves boys ages 10 to 17 and Columbia houses girls ages 10 to 18 for minor infractions such as truancy, shoplifting and simple assault.

DHS has begun moving the remaining girls at Columbia to Oakley in an area separate from boys.

Columbia is expected to close in July. The Legislature passed a bill this year allowing closure of the training school. The bill is on the governor’s desk.