Differences between Inmates Who Attempt and Die by Suicide

October 19, 2018

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Suicide deaths among inmates are less likely to occur when correctional facility mental health staff are aware of their past and current psychological and treatment-related risk factors, such as mental health diagnoses and receiving mental health care.

Using data from two large municipal jails and eight state correctional systems, researchers examined psychological, diagnostic, and treatment differences between 735 inmates who attempted suicide and 190 who died by suicide. They found that inmates were more likely to survive a suicide attempt if they were receiving mental health care or taking their psychotropic medication as prescribed. Inmates who had recent documentation of agitation, hopelessness, psychotic symptoms, or self-harm were also more likely to survive a suicide attempt.

The researchers concluded that knowledge of psychological and treatment-related risk factors may not prevent inmate suicide attempts but can help decrease their likelihood of suicide death. Mental health staff in correctional facilities should be encouraged to assess for psychological risk factors, identify inmates who may be at risk for suicide, and continuously monitor these inmates.

Folk, J. B., Loya, J. M., Alexoudis, E. A., Tangney, J. P., Wilson, J. S., & Barboza, S. E. (2018). Differences between inmates who attempt suicide and who die by suicide: Staff-identified psychological and treatment-related risk factors. Psychological Services, 15(3), 349–356.