Suicide continues to be a leading cause of death in jails and prisons throughout the country. In particular, the suicide rate in smaller jails/facilities is higher than that found in larger prison settings. Given this statistic, it is vitally important that a facility completes intake screenings and ongoing assessments for those incarcerated, as well as ensuring that those working in corrections settings receive adequate training on suicide prevention. Training should address staff attitudes about suicide and how attitudes can either assist or hinder suicide prevention efforts, in addition to risk factors and warning signs that someone may be at risk for suicide and how to access help.
It is important to note that there are events associated with higher risk in a correction setting. Many suicides in jails occur in the first 24 hours of incarceration, often when the individual is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. They may be experiencing feelings of embarrassment or guilt due to the incarceration or they may not have immediate access to medications needed to manage mental health disorders. Other high risk periods include: while the individual is awaiting trial; after adjudication when the person returns to the correction setting; at time of pending release; holidays; and following receipt of bad news of any kind.
Research indicates that approximately 80% of those who die by suicide communicate their intent some time before their death, and that those who have a history of one or more suicide attempts are at much greater risk for suicide. Some of the warning signs exhibited by an individual in a correction setting may include:
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Strong guilt or shame over offense
- Talking about death or dying
- Expressing unusually high degree of concern over what will happen to them
- Severe agitation or aggressiveness
- Noticeable mood changes
- Increasing difficulty in relating to others
- Preoccupied with the past
A number of professional organizations have developed guidelines and standards for suicide prevention in correction settings. For additional information, link to the resources below:
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s “The Role of Corrections Professionals in Preventing Suicide”
- National Center on Institutes and Alternatives
- World Health Organization’s “Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Prison Officers”
(Information adapted from Suicide Prevention Resource Center and above-referenced training curriculum.)
A task force of The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention recently released a set of comprehensive suicide prevention resources to support professionals who work with youth in the juvenile justice system. Online versions of these resources are available at www.actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/task-force/juvenilejustice.
The Shield of Care training has been developed to help educate those individuals who work with youth in the juvenile justice field.
The American Association of Suicidology has developed Inmates and Suicide fact sheet.