Pa. prison implements revised suicide watch policy for enhanced inmate safety
The revised policy includes step-down procedures to ensure there is mitigated risk over a longer period of time before inmates are returned to general population
By Rich Cholodofsky
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.
GREENSBURG, Pa. — A revised suicide watch policy is in place at the Westmoreland County Prison, a move officials said will offer better oversight of inmates suspected to be in danger of self-harm.
The change adopted by the prison board Monday was based on recommendations from the jail’s medical provider. They asked that procedures that were adopted in 2009 be upgraded to ensure inmate safety, county officials said.
“Health care is always advancing to a better process and there is a lot of recent evidence that’s been cited,” said Prison Board Chairman Doug Chew. The county commissioner said the change was not prompted by a specific incident or evidence of heightened concern.
Coroner Tim Carson said no jail inmate as died as a result of suicide since December 2020. Jail officials confirmed there have been unsuccessful suicide attempts, including one inmate who recently was hospitalized and later returned to the Hempfield lockup.
Inmates suspected of potential self-harm have for more than a decade been placed in a suicide watch program. It includes intensive supervision in special cells that are monitored by guards around the clock and in person every 15 minutes.
Interim Warden Steve Pelesky said the revised policy continues that level of initial monitoring but includes step-down procedures to ensure there is mitigated risk over a longer period of time before inmates are returned to general population.
“Historically, we’ve had just one level of watch. Now, we’re adding two more levels,” Pelesky said.
Inmate suicides had been an issue at the jail a decade ago, prompting a series of lawsuits filed against the county.
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