Why does the mental health standard in incarceration facilities face a downward slope and how can we change that as a nation?

What you need to know:


Discovered Cause of Incarcerated Suicide Rate:

A recent study of 24 countries found that there was an association between rates of incarceration and rates of prisoner suicide: rates of prisoner suicide were higher in countries where fewer individuals were imprisoned per 100,000 members of the general population. Meaning, countries imporisoning large amounts of the nation had higher suicide rates.

3 Take-Aways

1) David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “In most prisons and jails I’ve seen — and there are exceptions — suicide prevention is a joke,” Fathi said. “We have seen people able to attempt suicide while supposedly on constant suicide watch. We’ve seen people taken off suicide watch because staff thought they were OK, and then kill themselves that same day. We’ve seen officers who were supposed to be watching someone on suicide watch actually sleeping.” (Schuppe)

2) In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice published data that showed a rise in the number of inmates who were taking their own lives, illustrating the truth of suicide in incarceration facilities. Suicide had become the leading cause of death in jails, and had hit a 15-year high in federal and state prisons! (NBC News)

3) After a decline in the 1980s, suicide rates remained steady until the 2000’s, when suicide rates started rising sharply. In state prisons, suicide rates went up 30% from 2013 to 2014 (CNN).

20X Women : 5X Men

In regards to free and incarcerated women and men, the incarcerated suicide rate for women is 20 times that of the suicide rate for free women. For men, the incarcerated suicide rate is 5 times that of the free men suicide rate.

41% and 26%

According to the Huffingto Post, 41% of jail suicides occurred within the first week of a person’s jail stay while 26% of jail suicides occurr within just three days.

Data Source: Huffington Post, Jail Deaths Database. (Graph: Bernadette Rabuy, 2016)

Death Toll

According to a new report by NBC, in jails, as of 2014, suicides accounted for nearly a third of all deaths, more than any other cause. In state prisons, suicides jumped 30 percent from 2013 to 2014, and represented 7 percent of all deaths in such facilities, the largest proportion since 2001. The 2014 suicide rate in federal prisons was the highest since 2001.”

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics
Graphic: Jiachuan Wu / NBC News

The suicide rate in Georgia prisons is 22 per 100,000, substantially higher than the national rate of 16 per 100,000. 

Equal Justive initiative

For Now: What to Establish?

1) Procedure

Create procedures to communicate with prisoners about state of mind between outside entities and correctional facilities. Especially, develop suicide profiles that can be used to target high-risk groups and situations. For example, studies show that pre-trial inmates differ from sentenced prisoners with respect to certain key risk factors for suicide. 

2) Training

The essential component to any suicide prevention program is properly trained correctional staff. “Very few suicides are actually prevented by mental health, health care or other professional staff because suicides are usually attempted in inmate housing units, and often during late evening hours or on weekends when they are generally outside the purview of programme staff”. Thus, providing annual training and retraining of all correctional, medical, and mental health staff would provide and institute a strong foundation and backbone of incarceration facilities to prevent suicides.

3) Evaluations

Introduce evaluations of inmates at intake and ongoing screening/assessment for suicide risk. Since the most suicides in jails occur within the first few days of arrest and detention, screening is necessary entrance into the institution in order to be effective. To be most effective, every new inmate should be screened at intake and again if circumstances or conditions change.

More on Prison Suicide Prevention 

What YOU Can Do:

How will YOU help?

In the comments below, please share (1) which idea you will take with you from this presentation and spread, (2) which relevant initiative you can and will use, 3) other ideas you have for creating change in your prison systems, and (4) your local senator that you can reach out to.


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