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Prison Suicide: An Overview and Guide to Prevention

June 1995:

While suicide is recognized as a critical problem within the jail environment, the issue of prison suicide has not received comparable attention. Until recently, it has been assumed that suicide, although a problem for jail inmates as they face the initial crisis of incarceration, is not a significant problem for inmates who advance to prison to serve out their sentences. This assumption, however, has not been supported in the literature. Although the rate of suicide in prisons is far lower than in jails, it remains disproportionately higher than in the general population. To date, little research has been done or prevention resources offered in this critical area.

This monograph was produced by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in an effort to fill a critical void in the knowledge base about prison suicide. In addition to a thorough review of the literature and of national and state standards for prevention, the document offers the most recent national data on the incidence and rate of prison suicide, effective prison suicide prevention programs, and discussion of liability issues. The National Institute of Corrections hopes that this document will encourage continued research, training, and development of comprehensive prevention policies that are imperative to the continued reduction of prison suicides throughout the country.

In April 1993, I embarked on the task of developing a comprehensive monograph on prison suicide. Having devoted more than 15 years to the study and prevention of jail suicide, I was not only well aware of the problem of suicide in custody, but also had developed the strong bias that we should be directing much more energy toward the issue. My feeling then and now is that while the number of suicides in jails far exceeds the number in prison, that fact certainly should not lessen our responsibility to identify and prevent as many of these prison deaths as we can. It is always difficult, however, to preach prevention without first identifying the parameters of the problem. The intent of this document is not only to detail what is now known about prison suicide, but also to describe how far we have come in our prevention efforts and the work that still lies ahead. Only by continuing to examine the problem of prison suicide and transmitting what is learned to those entrusted with the custody and care of inmates will we be in the best possible position to reduce the likelihood of prison suicide. It is my hope that this monograph provides the appropriate vehicle for disseminating such information. ..For the remainder of this paper: by Lindsay M. Hayes, Project Director, National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, Mansfield, Massachusetts

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