Objective: Examine factors related to prison suicides to aid prevention.
Method: Review the mental health records of all 76 suicides that occurred between 1993 and 2001 in New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYSDOCS) prisons that had some contact with mental health services during their incarceration. (This represented 84% of all NYSDOCS suicides.) Extract data from the psychological autopsies for a sample of 40 of these suicides.
Results: Of the suicide victims with some mental health contact, 95% had a substance abuse history, 70% displayed agitation or anxiety prior to the suicide, and 48% had a behavioral change. Common stressors preceding the suicide were inmate-to-inmate conflict (50%), recent disciplinary action (42%), fear (40%), physical illness (42%), and adverse information (65%) such as loss of good time or disruption of family/friendship relationships in the community. Forty-one percent had received a mental health service within 3 days of the suicide. Compared to the about 7200 inmates actively receiving mental health services in state prison, African-Americans and patients with a Major Mood (Bi-polar or Major Depression) were under-represented. Adjustment Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Personality Disorder diagnoses were over-represented. Suicide victims were more likely to have been incarcerated for a violent crime.
Conclusion: Mental illness, anxiety/agitation, behavior change, stressors, history of substance abuse, and non-African-American were important risk factors.