In Bland’s case, subsequent investigations found numerous deficiencies at the jail that not only included lapses in observation, but inadequate intake screening. Her death did not go unnoticed. In 2017, Texas enacted the Sandra Bland Act, which mandated that county jails develop better intake screening processes, as well as divert individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment options. The legislation eased bail conditions for defendants with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities and required that independent law enforcement agencies better investigate jail deaths.
Hundreds of individuals are thought to commit suicide each year in jails throughout the country, and suicide is still thought to be the leading cause of death in such facilities. Why such uncertainty? The U.S. Justice Department’s reporting program for deaths in correctional institutions has not released any data since 2016. The program was first established in 1990 to require the Justice Department to collect data on all deaths in custody from state and local authorities. As last reported in 2016, there were 372 suicides in local jails throughout the United States during 2014, resulting in a suicide rate of 50 deaths per 100,000 inmates. In state and federal prisons, 249 inmates committed suicide during 2014, resulting in a suicide rate of 20 deaths per 100,000 inmates.