|National Study of Inmate Suicide
|By National Center on Institutions and Alternatives
Dramatic decrease in rate of suicide and changing profile of victims cited.
Mansfield, Mass., May 19, 2010. The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) released a major study on jail suicide on May 19, 2010. The study, commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Corrections, found a dramatic decrease in the rate of suicide in county jails during the past 20 years. The suicide rate in county jails was calculated to be 38 deaths per 100,000 inmates, which was approximately 3 times greater than that in the general population of the United States (at 11 deaths 100,000 citizens), but nearly a threefold decrease from 107 suicides per 100,000 inmates reported by NCIA in similar Justice Department commissioned-study released in 1986.
According to Lindsay M. Hayes, NCIA Project Director and author of the National Study of Jail Suicide: 20 Years Later, “the recent decrease is extraordinary.” He said there may be several explanations for the reduced suicide rate. “During the past several years, national studies of jail suicide have given a face to this longstanding and often ignored public health issue in the nation’s jails,” Hayes stated. He then added, “The increased awareness of inmate suicide, coupled with the threat of liability, is also reflected in national correctional standards that now recommend comprehensive suicide prevention programming, better training of jail staff, and more in-depth inquiry of suicide risk factors during the intake process.” With strong data to indicate that suicides can be prevented, Hayes emphasized that “the antiquated mindset that ‘inmate suicides cannot be prevented’ should forever be put to rest.”
Despite this encouraging data, Hayes stressed that suicide continues to be a leading cause of death in jails across the country. The current study, a follow-up to a similar national survey that NCIA conducted for the Justice Department in 1986, resulted in a 68-page report of the findings that Hayes said “can be used as a resource tool for both jail personnel in expanding their knowledge base and administrators in creating and/or revising policies and training curricula on suicide prevention.”
The study identified 696 jail suicides in 2005 and 2006 combined, with 612 deaths occurring in detention facilities (housing individuals for more than 72 hours) and 84 in holding facilities (housing individuals for less than 72 hours). To ensure confidentiality and increase cooperation with surveyed agencies, individual states and jail facilities were not identified in the report. The findings are shown below. Significant findings are in bold and italics.
Changing Face of Jail Suicide Victims
In addition, inmates who committed suicide appeared to be far less likely to be housed in isolation than previously reported and, for unknown reasons, were less likely to be found within 15 minutes of the last observation by staff. Finally, more jail facilities that experienced inmate suicides had both written suicide prevention policies and an intake screening process to identify suicide risk than in years past, although the comprehensiveness of programming remains questionable.
According to author Hayes, findings from this study create a formidable challenge for both correctional and healthcare officials as well as their respective staff. “Although our knowledge base continues to increase, which has seemingly corresponded to a dramatic reduction in the rate of inmate suicide in detention facilities, much work lies ahead,” he said. The data indicate that inmate suicide is no longer centralized to the first 24 hours of confinement and can occur at any time during an inmate’s confinement. According to Hayes, “because roughly the same number of deaths occurred within the first several hours of custody as occurred during more than a few months of confinement, intake screening for the identification of suicide risk upon entry into a facility should be viewed as time limited.” He stressed that “because inmates can be at risk for suicide at any point during confinement, the biggest challenge for those who work in the corrections system is to view the issue as requiring a continuum of comprehensive suicide prevention services aimed at the collaborative identification, continued assessment, and safe management of inmates at risk for self-harm.”
The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) is a private, non-profit organization that is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, with an office in Mansfield, Massachusetts. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a division of the U.S. Justice Department, provides training, technical assistance, information services, and policy/program development assistance to federal, state, and local corrections agencies. NCIA entered into a cooperative agreement with the Justice Department to conduct this national study of jail suicide. NCIA has conducted four other national studies of jail, prison, and juvenile suicide for the U.S. Justice Department. Lindsay M. Hayes is a nationally-recognized expert in the area of suicide prevention in correctional facilities. He has directed all five national studies, acts as a consultant to correctional facilities, and is a federal court monitor.
For more information, contact:
Lindsay M. Hayes, Project Director
National Center on Institutions and Alternatives
(508) 337-8806 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 337-8806 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (508) 337-8806 end_of_the_skype_highlighting phone
The full 68-page National Study of Jail Suicide: 20 Years Later can be viewed at either:
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