A KSAT 12 Defenders investigation on deaths in the Bexar County Jail over a five-year period shows more suicides by detainees than in other highly populated Texas counties.
The Defenders tallied jail deaths from Bexar, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties from 2009 to 2013. Dallas County officials did not respond.
Bexar County ranked No. 1 in jail suicides. From 2009 through this year, Bexar County reported 12 jail suicides.
Houston's Harris County Jail had six during that period; Travis County reported three, and Tarrant County had just one.
Most of the suicides were caused by asphyxia by hanging.
One inmate in Bexar County was found with a bed sheet wrapped around his neck. Another was found with a towel wrapped around his neck. Another was found bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted injury.
Bexar County Jail Administrator Raul Banasco said the number of suicides is not unusual for a jail of this size that precautions are taken to prevent suicides.
"The detention staff (and) the detention deputies, are responsible to do supervision checks," Banasco said. “Depending on the category of the individual, we provide them with the appropriate supervision.”
He arrived in June and said in the years prior to his arrival, suicide was indeed a problem.
"There has been a history of that type of situation that's occurred in this agency," Banasco said. “One of the most important aspects of detention and corrections is the safety of the detainee.”
In terms of overall jail deaths during that period, Harris County ranked No. 1 with 49. Bexar County is next with 30. Travis has 12 and Tarrant had 11.
Travis does perhaps the most extensive investigation into jail deaths, including dozens of photos documenting the circumstances around each death.
Banasco said one of the reasons suicide is a common problem: funding for mental health care in Texas and elsewhere is lacking.
"Local jail detentions, as well as state correctional facilities, have now become an environment where we warehouse and house and treat the mentally ill," Banasco said. “There is a shortage of state mental health beds.”
He said when booked, detainees are questioned about suicidal tendencies and mental health issues but they don't always tell the truth.
“We ask them very key questions -- trigger questions -- to deal with medical (or) mental health issues,” Banasco said. “Every inmate, every detainee in the jail, has access to medical and mental services 24/7.”
Banasco has been in law enforcement 27 years and said since he got to the jail in June, there have been no suicides.