Studying survivors of near-lethal suicide attempts as a proxy for completed suicide in prisons

Forensic Sci Int. 2012 Jul 10;220(1-3):19-26. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.01.022. Epub 2012 Feb 3.


Suicides in prisons are common. There is a pressing need to understand more about the causes and prevention of prisoner suicides. A particularly informative approach is through studying survivors of near-lethal suicide attempts. However, the extent to which this approach is a good proxy for completed suicide requires verification. In this article we aimed to assess (1) the extent to which male and female prisoners who made near-lethal suicide attempts in prison are similar to prisoners who die by suicide; (2) the suicidal intent of those making near-lethal suicide attempts; and (3) the applicability of the Suicide Intent Scale in prisons. Survivors of near-lethal suicide attempts and prisoners who died by suicide were compared on sociodemographic and criminological characteristics. The suicidal intent of prisoners engaging in near-lethal self-harm was assessed using Beck's Suicide Intent Scale. There were no significant differences when the sociodemographic and criminological profiles of prisoners who made near-lethal suicide attempts and those who died by suicide were compared, except that male prisoners who made near-lethal suicide attempts were somewhat younger. Most prisoners carrying out near-lethal acts had high suicidal intent. However, some questions in the Suicide Intent Scale were inappropriate for assessing intent in prisoners. Prisoners who survive near-lethal self-harm would appear to be a valid proxy for those who die by suicide in prison. The Suicide Intent Scale requires some modifications for use in prisons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Survivors
  • Young Adult