Suicide an emerging issue in some Utah jails

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A jail worker on March 10, 2011 found Cory Jex hanging from a shower head. Cory didn’t followed to the cafeteria for a meal that day. He was on life support for three days before he died.

4c6a33880f149.preview-300Cory Jex, was subject to spend a couple of days in the Spanish Fork facility as he was tested positive for opiates and admitted to his probation officer that he had used heroin.

While he was gone, mother Michelle Jex went to his bedroom in their Springville home to tidy up and change the bed sheets. That way he’d have a fresh start — another new beginning — when he came home, she said .

Cory went to the Utah County jail previously in 2010 for a three-day stint . Cory then told his mom he’d never be behind bars again.

“He said he’d never go back because he had so much anxiety,” Michelle Jex, said. “He wasn’t very fond of it.”

This is just one of the hundreds cases of suicide in recent years at county jails — and one of more than a dozen that succeeded.

The officials say they are doing all they can to prevent any damage to those, they are looking after — a population that tends to be highly unstable, susceptible to depression and are placed in a new environment that can be uneasy, noisy and scary.

“I’ve been in this business for over 35 years. I’ve never seen in-custody suicides as high as they are today,” said Weber County Under sheriff Kevin McLeod. “But I’ve never seen attempted or threatened suicides and completed suicides in the public as high.”

The stats at Utah Department of Health show that the number of Utahns committing suicide has been increasing for years. In 2009, 459 Utahns killed themselves, and 478 committed suicide in 2010. In 2011, 524 took their own lives, while 563 did so in 2012.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said in a recent interview that many of the inmates who wind up in the Salt Lake County jail commit crimes because of their underlying problems with mental illness. “It’s not because they are evil; it’s because they are mentally ill,” Winder said. “Knowing the difference in that is not easy.”

Joel Allred, a licensed clinical social worker with Davis Behavioral Health, is one of two therapists available to inmates at the Davis County jail. He said in a recent interview that inmates who are psychotic are some of the most difficult to treat and contain in a jail setting. Due to safety issues they can’t be paired in a room with anyone, he said, and there are no restriction on the duration for which they can be kept on suicide watch in a safety cell.

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