NCIA Celebrates The Retirement of Lindsay Hayes, Suicide Prevention Expert

 Lindsay M. Hayes has been a Project Director for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and is a nationally recognized as an expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. Mr. Hayes has been appointed as a Federal Court Monitor (and expert to special masters/monitors) in the monitoring of suicide prevention practices in several adult and juvenile correctional systems under court jurisdiction. He is also a suicide prevention consultant to the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division (Special Litigation Section) in its investigations of conditions of confinement in both adult and juvenile correctional facilities throughout the country. He also serves as an expert witness/consultant in inmate suicide litigation cases. Mr. Hayes also serves as a technical assistance consultant/expert by conducting training seminars and assessing inmate and juvenile suicide prevention practices in various state and local jurisdictions throughout the country.

As NCIA enters our 44th year of services we have been honored to have Mr. Hayes as an employee for the past 42 years. We sat down with him to reflect on his time and experiences with us.

 

  • How did you get started with NCIA? Well, believe it or not, I was the third employee to be hired. I was a graduate student in criminal justice at American University in Washington, DC during the summer of 1977. Herb (Hoelter) and Jerry (Miller) had recently conceived of NCIA and traveled down to DC from Pennsylvania in order to obtain initial funding to start the agency. The first project, as I recall, was to assist four states in closing their juvenile prisons and create alternative programming in the community. Of course, Jerry Miller was nationally-known as a visionary and had previously closed all of the juvenile prisons in Massachusetts. For me, it was pretty wild. One day I was reading books in graduate school about Jerry’s accomplishments, and the next day found myself with a fellow graduate student hired as research assistants on the project. We also hired a secretary. Thus, NCIA’s first project started in early 1979 with five employees. I guess we have grown a bit since then!

 

  • What was it like working with Herb Hoelter and Jerry Miller? Quite frankly, it was a wild ride that I would not trade for anything in the world. Jerry was the most ingenious, brilliant and unconventional thinker that I have ever known. He was talking about things such as “unconditional care,” the “prison industrial complex,” and inherent bias toward, and over-representation of, African-Americans in the criminal justice system for over a decade before anyone else. He had a warm heart, had trouble saying no to anybody, and couldn’t balance his checkbook. That was Jerry. He had an unwavering commitment to unconditional care that continues today at NCIA. Herb on the other hand, had and continues to have the unique ability to balance an individual’s creativity with the agency’s balance sheet. Perhaps the most recent example is the Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center in Baltimore and Charlotte, a truly creative initiative with a sound financial base of funding. The program is aptly named. NCIA would not be here today without Herb. Most people probably don’t realize that there were countless private, nonprofit agencies created during the 1970s and 1980s when the federal government had a fair amount of money available to fund start-ups with innovative ideas. Many never survived the 1980s because of their sole reliance on federal funding. But Herb realized that federal funding would eventually dry up and NCIA needed to find other sources of revenue. He then concentrated his sights on private foundation grants and fee for service programs. Jerry was nationally known, controversial, and, therefore, a great draw to foundations. They loved his ideas, but it was Herb who put together every budget to those grant applications to foundations. They were great partners in every sense of the word. Today, NCIA remains successful with a solid financial foundation because our revenue sources are diverse, with federal, state, private, and client-funded projects.

 

  • What is a story or a favorite impact you had on the life on an individual? I will never forget the first case I ever worked on for the Client Specific Planning (CSP) project, the forerunner to our current sentencing advocacy and criminal justice services program. It was in the early 1980s and involved a young man who had been arrested for trespassing. You might not think that this case was very challenging until you know some basic facts. The young man was African-American, homeless, and had a serious mental illness. And the trespassing occurred on the grounds of the White House. Jerry read about it in the Washington Post and asked me to call the young man’s court-appointed attorney. Of course, this was way outside my comfort zone, but I could not say no to Jerry. So I contacted the attorney, convinced him that we could help, and scheduled a meeting to see my “client” at the DC Jail. Apart from a college internship, it was the first time I had ever been in a jail. When I initially met my client, he had no idea who I was and clearly had no understanding of what CSP was supposed to accomplish. It took several visits to gain his confidence and learn his story. I was eventually able to develop an alternative sentencing plan that included community service at a soup kitchen, placement in a homeless shelter, and out-patient psychiatric services at a local health clinic. The attorney and I presented the plan at the sentencing hearing, and the judge accepted it! Other than the fact that my client was fearful of staying at the shelter, the plan was otherwise successful and he completed probation without a problem. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and to this day occasionally think of this client and where he might be in the world of COVID.

 

  • When did you begin getting involved with suicide prevention in custody and what led you toward that career path? Because it is such an obscure specialty, even after doing this for more than 40 years, I still get asked that question quite often. The answer is somewhat bland. When NCIA was initiated, we did not have very many projects. We were constantly looking for new ideas and sources of funding, and decided to subscribe to a national newspaper clipping service. Of course, this was well before the Internet. Picture a large room full of senior citizens sitting at tables, armed with scissors, and clipping newspaper articles from all over the country. We supplied a list of topics to this service and they would literally scour local newspapers and send us the actual clippings on those topics. One of the topics selected was “deaths in custody.” We would receive an envelope from this clipping service several times a month with literally hundreds of newspaper articles. When reviewing articles on deaths in custody, I noticed that most of them were related to inmate suicides in both city and county jails. I then did a cursory search, including going down to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, in an attempt to determine if there had ever been a national study conducted on the topic. I determined that there had not been and, through the encouragement of Jerry and Herb, submitted a grant application to the US Justice Department to conduct the first national study on inmate suicides. The study was funded and eventually completed in 1981. It became well-publicized and distributed throughout the country. I and a team of research assistants for NCIA ended up conducting several more national studies for the Justice Department on both inmate and juvenile suicides in custody, followed by development of several training curricula on suicide prevention in custody. Those publications are still listed on the NCIA website. Later, I then began consulting with correctional facilities throughout the country, assisting in revising policies and providing training to staff. At last count, I have been to hundreds of correctional facilities, both small and large, in all 50 states and currently serve as the federal court monitor to several class-action lawsuits involving inadequate suicide prevention practices. My expertise and national recognition would have never happened without the support of Jerry and Herb.

 

  • What would you consider your greatest accomplishments? I really don’t think about personal accomplishments, but I will say this, when I first started my career it was typical for a county sheriff to tell a local newspaper reporter that the inmate suicide occurring in his jail the other day “was not preventable.” After 40 years of research, training, lawsuits, and implementation of standards of care, there is now a general awareness and recognition throughout the country by sheriffs and others in correctional leadership positions that inmate suicides are, in fact, preventable. I would like to believe that the national studies on inmate and juvenile suicides and the companion training curricula produced by NCIA have contributed to that increased awareness. The result has been a dramatic reduction in the rate of inmate suicide throughout the country. Our national studies of inmate suicide found that the rate of suicide went from 107 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 1986, or nine times greater than the rate in the community, to 38 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2006. And although the rate of suicide has increased slightly in the last several years and is still too high, it is still nowhere near the horrifically high rate it was during the 1980s. I take great pride in NCIA’s contribution to the reduction of that suicide rate.

 

  • NCIA just celebrated our 43-year anniversary. What type of growth and evolution within the company have you seen over that time period? The growth of NCIA has been unparalleled. We started with 5 and now have almost 500 employees. There are not very many private, nonprofit agencies around the country today that have grown to such a size, as well as sustain themselves for all these years. In fact, the sustainability of NCIA might be more impressive than the growth. Of course, the sustainability has everything to do with not only the diversity of our employees, but the diversity of our projects. I do quite a bit of traveling throughout the country and wherever I go people will invariably ask — “What is NCIA”? I usually start off by saying sit down, this is going to take a minute.” I do not know of any other organization that can boast both a residential services program and adult career development center for individuals with developmental disabilities, a certified school program focusing on special education services for youth 11 to 21, a vocational training program for military veterans and individuals who are economically disadvantaged, a sentencing advocacy service for those involved in the criminal justice system, and suicide prevention in custody services. Why such diversity? It always goes back to the beginning with Jerry and Herb, who always preached to us that we are an organization of creative and imaginative ideas. That is just as true today as it was when I joined NCIA in 1978. Although I will be retiring from NCIA in the next few weeks, I will remain on the Board of Directors for as long as I am asked. You can’t say “no” to Jerry and Herb.

 

NCIA Co-Founder and CEO, Herb Hoelter, stated: We have been honored to have had Lindsay as a senior staff member for over four decades. His commitment to NCIA and our body of work has been unparalleled. His work ethic, professional research and commitment to our cause has been remarkable. We wish him the best in his retirement.

 

Congratulations Lindsay!