Spike in Suicides Puts Women's Prison on Alert
California facility has seen 4 deaths, 20 attempts in 18 months
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 1, 2015 12:41 PM CDT
This photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Stephanie Feliz, 34, one of those who committed suicide.   (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

(Newser) – A spike in suicides and attempted suicides has prompted corrections officials to step up oversight at a California women's prison as inspectors try to pinpoint the cause. Four women have killed themselves at California Institution for Women in San Bernardino County in the last 18 months, according to state records. The suicide rate is more than eight times the national rate for female inmates and more than five times the rate for the entire California prison system. The facility is the only women's prison in the state to have had any suicides in the last five years, and another 20 of the prison's 2,000 inmates have attempted suicide during the last year and a half.

It's a shocking turnaround at a facility that last year was cited as a rare example of California providing proper mental health treatment for inmates. All four women who died were receiving mental health treatment in the days before their deaths. Suicide is predominantly a male phenomenon in prison as in society at large, yet women at the Southern California prison have been killing themselves at "an astronomical rate," says Jane Kahn, an attorney who has fought to improve prison suicide prevention efforts. Such deaths in custody have drawn scrutiny since Sandra Bland was found hanging in a Texas jail cell, though she died in a county jail and not a state prison.