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Suicide watch is an intensive monitoring process used to ensure that an individual does not commit suicide. Usually the term is used in reference to inmates in a prison, hospital, psychiatric hospital, or military bases. Individuals are placed on suicide watch when it is believed there is a good chance they will attempt to cause bodily harm to themselves.
Various forms of suicide watch exist. These include periodic suicide watch (known at many facilities simply as "suicide observation" or "suicide watch"), in which the subject is monitored through frequent periodic checks, or intense suicide watch or observation, in which the subject is observed continually by a person who may be employed in one of several possible capacities sitting or standing in direct sight or arm's reach of the subject. In some places, video suicide watches are performed, in which the subject receives video monitoring via closed circuit television from a remote area of the facility.
Conditions of Suicide Watch
People under suicide watch are put into an environment where it would be difficult for them to hurt themselves. They may be placed in a special padded cell and be stripped of anything with which they might hurt themselves (including shoelaces and belts, clothing, and sometimes even bed sheets). They may be under continuous or very frequent watch of a guard (a prison officer or orderly) who will intervene if they attempt to harm themselves.
Suicide watch régimes, particularly in prisons, have been criticized for being too restrictive and dismissive of privacy. Inmates are often placed naked in suicide cells, which are usually bare concrete, often without bedding (to prevent hanging by using bed sheets) and under frequent or continuous observation by guards. Unsanitary conditions are also common since toilet paper, underwear and tampons (all potential means of choking) are restricted; being exposed without any way of covering oneself, coupled with being under constant observation can aggravate mental distress, particular if the inmate has been a victim of sexual abuse in the past. These harsh conditions came to light in 1998 when an inmate of Framingham prison in Massachusetts, Elizabeth B., called a radio talk show to describe how she had been treated while on suicide watch:
I was...put on eyeball status, stripped of belongings, clothing, placed naked in a room with nothing but a plastic mattress on the floor. Watched 24 hours a day by a man or woman. I was on my period but because of my status not allowed to have tampons or underwear. I was very humiliated, degraded. Being on eyeball status with male officers, my depression intensified. I didn't want to be violated any more than I already was, so I put the mattress up against the window. When I did that I was in violation because they couldn't see me. The door was forced open, I was physically restrained in four point restraints - arms, legs spreadeagled, tied to the floor, naked, helmet on head, men and women in the room ["Here and Now" program, station WBUR, Boston University, 16 October 1998.]