The number of prisoners taking their own lives is increasing worldwide. In the U.S., suicide was found to be the leading cause of death among local jail inmates in the year 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It was also one of the five leading causes of death among state prison inmates.
During a 10-year period between 2000 and 2010, the Department of Justice noted that almost half of prison suicides occurred within seven days after the prisoner was admitted. Of those who committed suicide, the highest was among white and older males.
In the U.K., particularly in England and Wales, the rate of prison suicides reached its highest level in 2013 within a seven-year period.
During the year, 92 prisoners took their own lives. This is based on a report from the Ministry of Justice. The highest figure took place in two of the biggest jails.
An HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks revealed that inmates usually kill themselves by using counterfeit blades and then slit their wrists. Hanging, however, is the most common method that prisoners use to end their lives particularly those not under any suicide watch.
Inmates are put under suicide surveillance if they show symptoms of mental illness or unstable mental state. They are then put under protective custody which means they are confined in a separate area and checked several times in a day. Prisoners in the true suicide watch are checked every 15 minutes and are not provided with any bed sheets or any other material they can use to hang themselves.
It was also noted that the length of sentence does not have any impact on the suicide rates in prisons.
A 2010 study done by the National Institute of Corrections found several important points in the prison suicide rates. It noted that more than half or 51 percent of suicides took place within the first 24 hours of being admitted to jail while 29 percent occurred within the first three hours.
Of the self-inflicted deaths during the first three hours, 52 percent were charged with alcohol and/or drug related offenses. Among those
found intoxicated or with alcohol problems, 78 percent died within the first 24 hours while 48 percent killed themselves within the first
According to a white paper entitled Preventing Suicide in Jails and Prisons issued by the World Health Organization’s Department of Mental
Health and Substance Abuse, one suicide attempt occurs every three seconds and one completed suicide occurs every minute. The attempt rate
is 7.5 times among pre-trial detainees while for sentenced prisoners, the rate is almost six times compared to that of males out of prison
in the general population.
Various factors can be attributed to the rise in prison suicides. Some take their own lives out of frustration or depression due to
difficult life even while some decide to end their life particularly if they do not see any positive development in their case. Similar
cases also occur after prisoners receive mental health services.
Lawmakers, law officers and families of inmates, however, point to possible problems in the penal system. When deaths occur in a facility
supposed to protect the health and safety of inmate populations, legal and political issues result.
But the World Health Organization pointed out that meaning social interaction is key in the prevention of suicide in jails, prisons and
penitentiaries. Other steps that need to be taken are the provision of mental health treatment, increase use of technology such as
surveillance cameras and provision of suicide-safe environment.