After record year for Georgia prison suicides, more seen in January

After ending a record year for inmate suicides, the Georgia Department of Corrections said three inmates have apparently killed themselves within 2 1/2 weeks, two on the same day.

According to the Department of Corrections, the agency is investigating all three deaths as apparent suicides. Corrections did not provide specifics about how the inmates died.

Two deaths were early on Sunday.

First, Andrew Garland, who was serving a 10-year sentence for a 2016 aggravated stalking and five years for the same crime committed in 2017, was found in his cell around 1:15 a.m. at Rogers State Prison in Tattnall County in southeast Georgia. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital two hours later on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, at 2:50 a.m., Christopher Mauldin was found dead in his cell at Phillips State Prison in Buford. Mauldin was in prison for two burglary convictions in Carroll County — one in 2009 for which he was sentenced to 12 years and the other burglary committed in 2015 for which he was sentenced to 15 years.

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The first apparent state inmate suicide of this year was on Jan. 13 at Hays State Prison in Summerville in northwest Georgia. Cecil Williams, serving 10 years for a 2015 robbery by intimidation in Lowndes County, was found unresponsive in his cell at 1:09 a.m.

“Along with having policies in place that direct employees on the proper monitoring of offenders who are believed to be suicidal, GDC is in the process of developing an awareness campaign for use in communicating to the offender population,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath said in an email. “We work diligently to identify practices that will improve our ability to thwart suicide attempts. We have been, and remain, committed to the safety and security of all offenders.”

With just over 52,000 Georgia prisoners, the state had 15 inmate suicides in 2017, equal to a rate of 28.5 per 100,000 prisoners. The national rate is 17 inmate suicides per 100,000 prisoners. (Vino Wong

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By the end of 2017, 15 state prisoners caused their own deaths, including one who died at an area hospital so the DOC did not include him in the agency’s inmate suicide count.

In 2016, by comparison, nine inmates committed suicide for the entire year.

The rate of Georgia inmate suicides last year far exceeded the national rate of 17 inmate suicides per 100,000 prisoners. With just over 52,000 Georgia prisoners, 15 suicides translates into a rate of 28.5 per 100,000 prisoners.

In 2017, one of the inmates who is suspected of killing himself was on Death Row and three were in isolation cells.

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Prison officials have offered no explanation for the increase in apparent suicides in recent months. But those outside the system question whether some of the deaths could be attributed to a lack of mental health care. Others have blamed the state's increased use of solitary confinement.

At least two federal lawsuits have been filed over the use of restrictive and isolated cells. Inmates assigned to the "special management unit" at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson are placed in cells that get no outside light and have solid metal doors out of which they cannot see. The inmates spend 24 hours a day alone in those cells, without diversions like reading or television, except 2 1/2 hours a week when they are let out for exercise.

None of the inmates who have died this year were in the special management unit at the times of their deaths.