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How common is suicide in prison?

  • HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks on Ariel Castro's fate
  • Cleveland kidnapper Castro was found hanged in his prison cell in Ohio late Tuesday
How common is suicide in prison?

Authorities announced on Wednesday that Ariel Castro, the Ohio kidnapper who abducted three women and held them against their will for more than a decade, was found dead in his prison cell. Coroner Jan Gorniak told CNN that Castro hanged himself with a bed sheet late Tuesday.

WATCH: Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro dead

In 2010, suicide was the leading cause of death among local jail inmates and one of the five leading causes of death among state prison inmates, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Of the 918 jail deaths in 2010, 305 (33.2%) were attributed to suicide. Of the 3,232 prison deaths that year, 215 (6.7%) were suicides.

The report also states that nearly half of all jail suicides in the United States between 2000 and 2010 took place within seven days of prisoners' being admitted. During the same period, the suicide rate of jail inmates was highest among white, older male inmates.

At state prisons, the suicide rate was also higher among white male inmates between 2001 and 2010, but age didn’t make as much of a difference, with prisoners across all age groups committing suicide at “nearly equal rates,” according to the report. 

HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks offered more insights on the frequency of prison suicides and how they can happen under such closely monitored conditions.

HLN: How often do suicides happen in prison?
Mike Brooks: They're not uncommon. Of course, there are murders in prison, but hanging is a way that inmates kill themselves. They also sometimes use counterfeit blades and slit their wrists. Hanging is a method to kill yourself while you’re in prison, if you’re not under any kind of suicide watch or other special circumstances.

HLN: Was Castro under a suicide watch?
Brooks: He was in a facility where they do the classification: They decide where to put him within the Ohio penal system. Last time we saw him was August 1, and he was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years. We heard from a number of health professionals, and they were saying there is no mental illness there. He was very defiant, but I don’t remember anything at all mentioned about him being a danger to himself, being any kind of suicide risk. So, while they were holding him, had he any suicidal ideation and talked to one of these psychiatrists about it, they probably would have handled him differently.
Editor's note: Castro's attorney had requested that more precautions against a possible suicide be taken, including an evaluation by an independent forensic psychologist, according to CNN. His request was denied. 

HLN: How would they have treated Castro differently if he were under a suicide watch?
Brooks: When you’re in protective custody or segregated confinement like [Castro was], they’ll check on you X number of times. If he was on a true suicide watch, most likely, it would be every 15 minutes [depending on the facility], and most likely, there would not be any bed sheets or anything at all that he could use to hang himself.

HLN: How does an inmate hang himself in a prison cell?
Brooks: I looked at pictures of a cell just like Castro’s. There’s not much place you can hide because you’ve got just a metal toilet, a sink, a bed with a cushion on it -- not much at all. The medical examiner said he died by hanging himself with a bed sheet. You can hang it around the sink and just let yourself go limp. Apparently, in this particular facility, he was supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes at different intervals, but then again, that [can be] a long time. So someone with the will to die and to kill themselves is going to find a way to do it.

HLN: Are suicides more common for inmates with a long or life sentence?
Brooks: I’ve seen people kill themselves in a holding cell for a DUI case. I’ve heard of instances in local facilities of someone killing themselves for a minor misdemeanor.

HLN: Do prison guards ever look the other way in cases like these?
Brooks: I seriously doubt that the correctional officers would do that. Here you have probably one of the most high-profile inmates in the state of Ohio right now, and they’re going to make sure that his sentence by the court is carried out. That’s what they’re there to do. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to turn my head.” No, I don’t see that happening at all.

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HLN: How do you think his victims feel? Do you think it gives them closure or makes them feel like he got off too easy?
Brooks: He didn’t serve his punishment. It’s hard to say what’s going through their minds: Are they happy, sad, feel like they’ve been shorted? He’s dead. He’s not around talking to anybody; no one is going to be able to correspond with him in jail. People, for some strange reason, start to fall in love with people in jail -- that won't happening in this case.

MORE PHOTOS: Former captive witnesses Castro house demolition

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