Suicide Rates in NC Jails at Record Highs but Sheriffs Block Reforms

For Immediate Release


Contact: Susan Pollitt: 919-856-2195 ext. 224,
or Luke Woollard: 919-856-2195 ext. 211,

A report issued today by Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) documents that more North Carolinians died by suicide in jail in 2019 than in any year since 2013, when the agency began keeping data. Death rates in NC jails remain staggeringly high, and while the total deaths increased by 6% (from 46 to 49) between 2018 and 2019, jail suicides increased by 67% (from 12 to 20). In 2019, 41% of all jail deaths were deaths by suicide. This is far above the 2016 average national jail suicide rate of 31%. All but one of the twenty people who died by suicide in NC jails in 2019 had not yet had their day in court.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that people behind bars in jails are four times more likely to report having a disability than the general population. “On any given day there are over 18,000 individuals in jails across the state,” writes Susan Pollitt, DRNC supervising attorney and leading advocate in the area of disabilities and incarceration. “Many are disabled and endangered by unsafe conditions and lack of health care for mental health disabilities and substance use disorders. Once in jail, without adequate screening and treatment, too many are dying.”

DRNC asserts that action is needed and the state’s Sheriff’s Departments must not be allowed to continue operating unsafe jails under outdated Rules. North Carolina’s decades old Jail Rules have been approved for updates by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“The Updated Jail Rules were approved by NC DHHS, the Attorney General, and the Governor in 2019,” writes DRNC attorney Luke Woollard in the report. “However, because of objections from the Sheriff’s Association, the updated Jail Rules are delayed and in jeopardy of being blocked.”

The Rules updates are now in limbo, while pending action from the state legislature could cancel the DHHS-approved Rules and allow deadly jail conditions to continue harming North Carolinians.

The report, which in addition to statistical data details personal stories of suicide, is available on the DRNC website at

View full Report – Suicide in NC Jails in 2019 – published June 2020

View 2019 update to the 2013-2016 Suicides in Jail report

October press release:  Report on High Suicide and Overdose Rates in North Carolina Jails Calls for Reforms

View 2013-2016 Suicides in Jail report

Learn more about DRNC’s work on Prisons and Jails