Suicide in prison


Suicide in prison will always be a very real problem. The fact you are in prison is bound to affect you mentally and depending on the length of your sentence and personal circumstances your mental health will be affected in various degrees.

On admission to prison inmates are screened and asked if indeed they are feeling suicidal and if they are identified as being a danger to themselves they will be placed on a ‘watch’. There are various levels of watches, a level one is where eyes are constantly on the inmate, a level 2 is 15 minute observation and a level 3 is 30 minute observation.

The level 3 watch is where most mistakes are made which result in a death where an officer forgets to check or the 30 minutes is time enough for the inmate to indeed kill themselves.

Hanging is the most common method of suicide in prison, it is common when inmates are held in segregation cells. Many reports show that successful suicide can and does occur within only a few centimetres from a support or floor. Death by these methods takes several minutes and is accomplished using a rope of sorts fashioned from sheets or clothing and shoelaces can also be used. The next most common are injuries from self-harm and stabbing that cause significant loss of blood and injuries that lead to death.

A lot of factors within the prison environment such as distress about bullying, disagreements with other inmates,  actions with regard discipline by prison staff, hearing bad news about family or your legal position can add to the stress of incarceration, this can all lead to feelings of hopelessness and desperation and then onto suicidal thoughts.

Other factors can also can also lead to an increased risk of suicide in prison, these can include poor social and family support, a history of mental illness or emotional problems, withdrawal from drugs/alcohol, as well as a history of previous suicide attempts. 

Studies show the rates of suicide in prisons have decreased with the use of known screening programs and  prevention strategies, but there is still a long way to go.

Prevention strategies should include suicide-resistant housing and clothing, as well as re-enforcing to staff the importance of carrying out their duties correctly and observing inmates on whatever level watch they are on, on time.

Prisons would do well to train prisoners in spotting the signs of suicidal thoughts in their peers and the importance of talking about these thought patterns and how to deal with them

A Dr Fazel writes in Psychiatry Advisor that, “The role of suicide risk assessment is a complicated area,” Dr Fazel cautioned. “Identification and rapid evidence-based treatment of drug and alcohol withdrawal, and identification and clear pathways to treatment for prisoners with mental illness, are important. If risk assessment can be linked to risk management and has been validated in prisoners, it can be considered. But the performance of such assessments needs to be carefully examined, with information on the rates of true and false positives and negatives.”

All of his points are valid and inroads are being made in suicide in prison and how to prevent it. Ultimately though it is a problem that is not going away and from a personal viewpoint i believe a lot of suicides in prison are indeed preventable with more thorough procedures and inter agency communication.

The 2013 Hayes reports that “Correctional facility officials should not conclude that an inmate suicide was not preventable unless they have demonstrated that their facility initiated and maintained a comprehensive suicide prevention program,” i would agree with this as to many preventable deaths are swept under the carpet without anyone being held accountable which is negligent and criminal to boot.

Prison poems and Prison songs



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