It’s no secret that American’s jails and prisons are among the most dangerous and overcrowded in the world. But news of former NFLer Aaron Hernandez’s suicide in prison highlighted a recent overlooked prison suicide statistics in corrections facilities nationwide.
Suicide rates in US prisons are on the rise!
US Prison Suicide Statistics
The U.S. Department of Justice 2010 study data of deaths in jails and prison nationwide, suicide is the leading cause of death for the incarcerated.
This was the National Study of Jail Suicide, which shows the rate of suicides in prisons over the general population is several times higher.
There has been some action taken to reduce the numbers of suicide in recent years since 2007, which has effectively resulted in few deaths. According to the study, the number of suicides has dropped from the 1986 number of 107 suicides per 100,000 inmates nationwide to the 2006 number of 36 suicides per 100,000.
These troubling prison suicide statistics bring to the forefront the current issues with the monitoring of health in secure room facilities. Currently, staff monitor health through periodic physical checks, with those assessed as being at high risk of serious self-harm or suicide put on 24 hour observation.
This is an expensive and time intensive activity for staff in these facilities, where there simply isn’t the resource for this level of intensive care.
Why It’s So Hard to Get a Handle on Prison Suicide Statistics
The method also has its inaccuracies, as it can be difficult to determine an individual’s health by sight alone. For instance determining a critical subject from one who is simply asleep requires further inspection and as such more resource.
Also, the patients can be easily disturbed, by lights being switched on, for example, which is counterintuitive to rehabilitation.
Critically, these periodic checks do not allow for staff to detect sudden changes in health in-between monitoring, meaning incidents of self-harm, and attempted suicide may go missed, only reaching an individual when it is too late. The cost of an individual death is significant, with inquests and investigations, staff resources and duty of care to the deceased costing upward of 1.2million, as well as the emotional cost of a lost loved one to family members.
Inmate Suicide Prevention in the US
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.
Finally, future success in reducing prison suicides throughout the country will rely on progressive prison administrators’ developing comprehensive and operational suicide prevention policies. It will also rely on the attitude enunciated earlier by EHCC Warden C.M. Lensing:
“You need to stay one step ahead of the game.”
When you put suicide prevention kits in each housing unit, place social workers in the cellblocks to assess suicidal inmates each day, and schedule suicide prevention training every Friday, you symbolize to all staff the commitment we have to suicide prevention.”
The prevention of future prison suicides might very well depend on the attitude of prison authorities, politicians and the prison loved ones who support these incarcerated people. It’s our duty to do what we can to improve the prison suicide statistics in America.