SAN ANTONIO -- Suicides at the Bexar County Jail are making headlines. Although two inmates have taken their own lives this year, Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz said intervention is far better than in years past.
Ortiz said a 57-page report let them know what they had been doing wrong.
"In 2009 we had a total of six suicides," Ortiz said during a Thursday press conference.
That alarming number prompted Sheriff Ortiz to take a closer look at his jail system. The following year, in 2010, a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails stepped into Bexar County.
"We were transparent. We let them look at all we had," said the sheriff.
As it turns out big changes were needed.
"We found that inmates were using the shelving and toothbrush holders to hang themselves from that," said Lt. Laura Balditt who gave the media a tour around the jail.
Expert Lindsay Hayes listed a number of recommendations, from how inmates are screened for mental health to the cells they're housed in.
"We used to have top bunk beds here," said Lt. Balditt.
Bed capacity was reduced, solid walls were torn down, and cordless phones replaced the old ones.
They even installed cameras in every corner looking at every angle making it easy for jailers to keep an eye on inmates.
Those under full suicide precaution watch are kept in separate cells.
"They are under camera observation 24 hours a day," said the sheriff.
But probably the biggest change for Bexar County was learning how to spot and deal with inmates who may need mental help.
All of the officers are required to take an intensive 40-hour suicide prevention class. Because of that, the sheriff said an average of 1,000 inmates are diverted somewhere else to get help before ever setting foot in the jail.