Pennington County Jail confident about initiatives against suicide

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Suicide behind bars is a conversation on the rise after multimillionaire financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell early Saturday morning.

Epstein's apparent suicide is in the hands of Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center after the facility failed to recognize he was dead hours after potentially hanging himself.

"I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner," said U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Pennington County Jail staff says they are staying on top of things with a low percentage of deaths in custody compared to other areas throughout the country.

"Here in Pennington County, we're doing everything we can to work towards that goal and to recognize that mental illness in our community is an issue," said Captain Brooke Haga, support at the jail.

At the jail, defendants are screened immediately during intake within minutes of their arrival.

They're given a test that determines whether they should be put on suicide watch, placed in an observation cell and in essential talks with mental health staff.

"If you don't have that historic information and they are not being truthful about where they are mentally. I think in most cases if someone truly wants to kill themselves, they will be able to get it done. Absent intervention because they're not going to tell anybody their intent on that result," Haga said.

Aside from guards thoroughly doing rounds every 30 minutes to check on inmates, which is something being investigated in Epstein's case, mental health counselors are put in place to really study the background of an inmate to figure out how to best serve their prevention needs.

"I would always love to have more resources. I would always love to have more counselors so that we can reach the entire audience,"
Haga continued.

Captain Haga says mental health staff goes through bi-annual and annual suicide prevention training and additional training during high-risk times such as the holidays.