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And Darkness Closes in...A National Study of Jail Suicides


Inmates in county jails and police lockups commit suicide at a rate of 16 times greater than individuals in the general population. This conclusion was reached as a result of findings in a National Study of Jail Suicides. Documentation of 419 suicides in county and local jails during 1979 is presented. From demographic data collected on 344 of these suicides, a profile of the victim was constructed. The victim is most likely to be a 22-year-old, white, single male. He would have been arrested for public intoxication, the only offense leading to his arrest, and would presumably be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs upon incarceration. Further, the victim would not have had a significant history of prior arrests. He would have been taken to an urban county jail and immediately placed in isolation for his own protection and/or surveillance. However, less than three hours after incarceration, he would be dead. He would have hanged himself with material from his bed (such as a sheet or pillowcase). The incident would have taken place on a Saturday night in September, between the hours of midnight and 1:00 a.m. Jail staff would have found the victim, they say, within 15 minutes of the suicide. Later, jail records would indicate that the victim did not have a history of mental illness or previous suicide attempts. The special considerations of juvenile suicide, isolation, and intoxication are analyzed. Recommendations for jailers, public officials, and legislators are presented. ..Source.. by LINDSAY M. HAYES, National Center on Institutions and Alternatives Alexandria, Virginia

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