In the past five years, North Carolina jails have had 151 prisoner deaths. Nearly half of these inmates were dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, or both.
The News&Observer tracked suicides in 2015 and the data show that 19 out of 40 North Carolina inmate deaths were suicides. In 2016, 12 out of 26 deaths were suicides.
Prisons are not equipped to handle inmates with mental illness or drug addiction. So what’s the solution? Vicki Smith—of Disability Rights NC, a nonprofit advocacy group that has also researched jail inmate deaths—believes that community-based programs are the key to helping those with mental illness. She says the answer is “. . . to develop better intervention, better behavioral health care, and work with people in a more proactive way.”