Suicide is one of the leading causes of inmate death in both prisons and jails. In 2013, for every 100,000 prisoners, 46 inmates imprisoned in jails and 15 in prisons had committed suicide. This continued a budding trend of increased suicide rates among prisoners in jails since 2009’s staggering jump from about 30 to over 40 deaths. Small jails in fact have a suicide rate six times higher than some of the nation’s largest jails. But, why does this occur?
Research suggests that the largest amount of jail suicides occur in first-time offenders. This is attributed to the shock-factor of an incarceration, or “shock of confinement.” The life the inmate had led up until that point, likely with family, a home, the outdoors, and some modicum of normality is abruptly stripped away, and the very framework of an existence is thrown on its axis. This contrasts with convicted felon suicides, which occurs at a rate seven times less.
Commonly, the issue has been poor pre-screening and not recognizing warning symptoms, followed by a lack of mental healthcare. This is being combated by the courts, where many judges are ruling in favor of required programs that sufficiently identify, evaluate, and take steps to deter suicidal tendencies to prevent a fatal result. Researchers point out a need for internal improvement, as external oversight is a rare occurrence.