Clinical Psychology Expert Discusses Prisoner Suicide

Psychology Expert WitnessThis psychopharmacology case involves a male inmate who committed suicide while incarcerated at the defendant correctional facility in Colorado. At the time of the incident in question, he was receiving psychological care for suicidal tendencies, including attempting to hurt himself on multiple occasions. He was seeing a correctional psychologist who cleared him from suicide watch after the decedent said that he would not harm himself. Just days before, this individual had to be restrained and sedated after attempting to hurt himself. It was alleged that the defendant correctional facility and the psychologist acted carelessly in taking the plaintiff off of suicide watch.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please briefly describe your experience in psychology and treating suicide risks, particularly in a correctional setting.
  • 2. What measures must be taken in order to take an at-risk inmate off of suicide watch?

Expert Witness Response E-078051

I was treating patients in a correctional facility in the state where this incident occurred for several years. Additionally, at the time, I oversaw a staff of three other psychologists at the facility. Now, I prove clinical oversight to prisons in the Eastern part of the state. I also serve as part of a team that develops and drafts the correctional facilities’ policies and programs. Furthermore, I have treated suicide at-risk inmate patients before, and have placed patients on, and remove them from, suicide watch (which we call “safety precaution”) during my career. When an inmate is placed on suicide watch, risk assessments need to be conducted first, and then a slow process is initiated to give the patient back certain liberties, such as the removal of restraints, following appropriate behavior and no further indication of suicidal behavior. It would seem fast to go from placing a patient in clinical restraints to removing them from suicide watch within a matter of days.

Expert Witness Response E-076808

Expert-ID: E-076808

I can speak to the standard of care for correctional psychologists in the state where this incident took place; these are no different than those that attend to any psychologist caring for someone at-risk of suicide other than what is posed by the specific policies and procedures of the correctional setting. Placing an inmate on-or-off watch is a judgment based on the psychologist’s assessment of the inmate’s acute risk of suicide and need to be observed based on that assessment. There are a great number of factors that enter into that assessment and judgment/decision. An inmate placed on watch because the risk is deemed to be acute would be taken off watch because the risk is deemed to be sufficiently lowered and the inmate does not appear to pose a threat of self-harm in the near-term. Typically this decision would be based on the absence or diminution of those risk factors that led to the decision to place the inmate on watch to begin with; but the patient’s mental status, history, and other factors, as well, need to be considered.


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