Suicide in Jails and Prisons Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Suicide in Jails and Prisons

Suicide

Incidence of suicide in prisons

According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the most common cause of death in jails and prisons. The rate of suicide in penitentiaries is also high. These correctional facilities also have a role to play in ensuring their inmates are healthy and safe. This is the reason why a plan for prevention of suicide in correctional facilities is essential. Characteristics available from various sources suggest that certain populations have higher risk of committing suicide. These are young males at the age of about 15 to 49 years. Elderly inmates, specifically elderly males also have higher-than-average risk of committing suicide. The other groups are indigenous people, persons with issues relating to abuse of alcohol, drugs or other substances, and persons with mental illnesses. A report by the State of Montana Department of Corrections also suggests that having previously attempted to commit suicide is a predisposing risk for suicide Weir, 1998()

A different report suggests that all inmates are basically high-risk persons. By the fact that they are inmates and their freedom is limited, they suffer stress that often predisposes them to risk of suicide. Some evidence suggests that the rates of suicide are increasing even in places where there are fewer prisoners. This is not associated with suicidal behaviors but rather more generally is associated with being in these institutions. It is suggested that many inmates often have suicidal thoughts and behaviors at some point of their prison sentences Warren, 2001()

Pre-trial inmates also have higher suicide rates. It is estimated that those detained during the pre-trial period are 7.5 times more likely to commit suicide than sentenced prisoners who also are also 6 times more likely to commit suicide compared to those released and in the general population. These statistics, worrying as they are, suggest that there is need to look into the causes of suicide for inmates.

Suicide rates for inmates who are released and break the law a second time are also a lot higher. They are said to have higher suicide rates because after their release from prison they found it harder to survive among the general population. Suicide rates of U.S. state prisons are much higher than federal prisons with men in both state prisons and federal prisons being more likely to commit suicide. Suicide rates as a percentage of all prisoners have decreased over the years. In 1986, this stood at close to 110 suicides per 100,000 inmates and this is now under 40 per 100,000. Though this represents a significant change over the years, there is need to reduce the rates even further.

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that the suicide rates in the 1980s has declined steadily. This has since stabilized. Suicide rates in federal prisons is lower than the overall average for the country.

Smaller jails, especially local jails, often have higher suicide rates compared to larger facilities such as state and federal jails and prisons. This is associated with the smaller jails being gateways into the justice system for majority of the inmates. This means that often this is the first time that these individuals have been arrested. This creates intensive stress and pressure in the individuals, most of who had otherwise lived their lives in the right side of the law. Often, these inmates lose hope of their efforts to stay on the right side of the law and have a tough time trying to deal with the guilt arising from their crime. They also face humiliation from their families, friends, and the general public as a result of having being incarcerated Topp & Welldon, 1991.

Another reason why smaller jails have higher rates of suicide or suicide attempts is because they often lack mental health professionals to deal with mental health issues facing the inmates. They are often understaffed and even where there are sufficient staff, they have other duties, especially, consistent observation of prisoners Smith, 1991()

Predisposing factors of suicide

The inmate environment is extremely conducive for suicide and suicidal behaviors. This is because it provides inmates with isolation and privacy that are predisposing factors for suicide. Correctional facilities also often do not have mental health facilities for inmates. Therefore, they endure their mental illnesses without any formal assistance. Correctional facilities also separate inmates and do not allow them to congregate in social support networks. Correctional facilities also hold groups that have statistically higher risk of committing suicide. These include young persons, those who abuse alcohol, drugs, and other substances, and the mentally ill. This is because of issues such as alcohol or drug dependency and having to withdraw from this once they are in prison Joan Petersilia, 2008()

More risk factors of suicide that are identified include being released from prison, either on parole or after serving a full sentence, overcrowding in prisons, being put in isolation, having to serve long sentences for committing violent offences, and psychiatric disorders or mental illness Ilangaratne, 1992.

Another report suggests other stressors of inmates being denial of appeal or parole, being close to release and loss of hope at this point, transfer to a different prison facility, threat of assault that may arise from the period of their stay, physical illness, and disciplinary actions taken by the warden Fussell & Louie, 2008()

All in all, the reasons for suicide are all related to the different stressors that inmates face during their incarceration. Therefore, any efforts to prevent suicides should aim at reducing the stressors and helping the inmates cope with the situation. Despite the difficulty in meeting these objectives, there is need to strive to achieve these because they lead to improved quality of life of prisoners while in these correctional facilities. The ability to resolve stress has also been shown to help inmates lead a better life when they are released from prison, either on parole or after serving their full sentence.

Characteristics and histories of victims of prisoner suicide

Correctional facilities have a large number of inmates with different kinds of mental health problems. In a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it was shown that more than 50% of all inmates had mental health issues. Approximately 75% of inmates with mental health issues had a concurrent substance abuse disorder. This suggests that majority of mental health issues in inmates are as a result of substance abuse Cox & Skegg, 1993()

The study also revealed that a large number of inmates have major depressive orders. Approximately 30 per cent of those in local prisons had major depressive orders compared to 23 per cent in state prisons and 16 per cent in Federal correctional facilities. Another study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggested that one in every ten inmates in any correctional facility had spent at least one night in a mental health institution prior to their incarceration Conacher, 1996.

The American Psychiatric Association also conducted a review of these studies and other literature and concluded that one in every five inmates needs psychiatric care as a result of their mental health disorders F. Alison, 2008()

Suicidal inmates also have a history that generates a set of warning signs that if someone was keen enough would be important in identifying their risk of suicide. One of the most effective warning signs generated by these inmates is talking to other inmates about their willingness to die or commit suicide. While this is often not taken seriously, several studies have shown it is the single most important warning sign for suicidal inmates. Other warning signs are talk about their feeling of hopelessness or lack of reason to live, feelings of being trapped in the correctional institution, anxiety, anxiousness, agitation, previous suicidal attempts or extreme mood swings L. Alison, 1999()

Though these warning signs are often generalized to all correctional facilities, research has shown that they are often more specific to jails and prisons. It is important for the correctional facility staff to monitor the inmates' reaction to their sentence or incarceration. A study has shown that majority of inmates who commit suicide do it within the first 24 hours of their detention Timmermans, 2005()

Young adults who are arrested for offences that are nonviolent such as abuse of alcohol, drugs and other substances have been found to be at greater risk of committing suicide. This is associated with their greater fear of being in prison, and being afraid of how their parents, family and friends will react to the news of their arrest. Often, their substance abuse issues are hidden to the family members and some friends until they are arrested when this becomes known to many Schulman, 1968.

Therefore, it is important to understand the situation in which the inmate was when they were arrested to assess risk of committing suicide.

Under what circumstances is prisoner suicide likely to occur

From the literature, prisoner suicide is most likely to occur when an inmate is faced with one or more risk factor…

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