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Suicide in Corrections - Suicide Policy, Procedures & Training

Suicides and self-harm are endemic to our nation’s jails, with suicide the leading cause of mortality for jail inmates. Given the high incidence of suicide and serious self-harm in corrections facilities, it is important for corrections agencies, including staff, to understand the causes of these incidents and improve policies and practices to minimize their occurrence.

This study aims to deepen understanding of the current practices jails use in reviewing and responding to incidents of suicide and self-harm and to explore the feasibility of integrating sentinel event reviews into four county jail systems. A sentinel event review approach, adapted from similar processes conducted in fields such as aviation and medicine, is intended to bring together health and correctional staff to examine and then respond to underlying systemic problems that contribute to self-harm in jails. The process is non-blaming and forward-looking, with representatives from all aspects of the system participating along the way. Ultimately, reviews of this kind are intended to prevent future errors from occurring by instilling an ethic of shared responsibility and a culture of safety.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people incarcerated in jail in the United States, accounting for more than 30 percent of deaths. In 2014, the rate of suicide in local jails (50 per 100,000) was the highest observed since 2000 and remained more than three times higher than rates of suicide in either prison (16 per 100,000) or in the community (13 per 100,000). Despite the fact that jail suicide is increasingly recognized as a serious public health problem, the relatively stable rate of jail deaths by suicide across the last 20 years suggests that progress in jail suicide prevention has stalled. The majority of jails in the United States (63 percent) do not conduct mortality reviews following a jail suicide. Further, review processes in the criminal justice system traditionally have been adversarial, driven by an approach that assumes a “bad apple” operator is responsible for error and responds by ascribing blame rather than seeking out the underlying system weaknesses that may more accurately be responsible for the bad outcome. The lack of a system-wide approach inhibits an honest assessment of what happened in these cases and, in turn forecloses opportunities for staff and corrections leaders to learn from mistakes and prevent future incidents of suicide and self-harm.

"In 1997, the administrator of a County Jail, located in the Northern Plains of the United States contacted these researchers with his concerns about the incidence of suicide behaviors occurring in that facility, particularly among the American Indian population. Seeking assistance in ensuring and where necessary, developing a best practices approach to suicide management in his facility, the administrator agreed to collaborate with researchers from the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in designing and carrying out a study geared toward discovering and identifying two essential types of information. First, because the admission screening tool used in the County Jail to interview inmates at their intake into the jail facility was developed in New York and consequently embraced by this jail (and many other jails across the country) as its screening instrument, one research objective was to determine if that instrument was culturally appropriate for use with the County Jail population, particularly with the American Indian population. Second, the principle objective of the second year of this hnded research was to determine whether the employment of different suicide screening protocols would make a difference in the responses of new detainees with regard to the likelihood of securing their honest reports of experiencing suicide ideation and it’s associated risk factors."

This video presentation will enable readers to:

  • Understand the problem of jail suicide--rates of suicide in certain groups, the decrease in jail suicide rates, what makes jails risky environments, and challenges of prevention.
  • Describe suicide risk factors, warning signs, and suicide myths that increase ones risk.
  • Discuss intervention best practices--the qualities of a suicide prevention program (a written suicide prevention policy and a culture of prevention among others), the process of suicide prevention, the use of wise correctional techniques, emergency response, and practice, practice, practice. Lessons learned from two case studies and two legal cases are also covered.


Basics and Beyond Cover

"The following is a suggested guide for suicide risk assessment for mental health clinicians in local jails. The last page of the guide was formatted so that it can be used as a vehicle for providing feedback to corrections and medical staff."

"This paper includes three studies associated with inmate suicide within Oregon’s Department of Corrections (DOC). The first is a statistical analysis that recognizes the inmate static and demographic factors that differentiate the average inmate from the inmate who is higher risk for a suicide attempt. The second analysis identifies the inmate static and dynamic factors that differentiate the high risk inmate who does not attempt suicide from the inmate who does attempt suicide. The third study includes interviews with inmates who have attempted suicide. "

"This article describes the prevalence of suicide for incarcerated adults in detention centers, jails, and prisons; factors associated with suicide risk; methods for assessing suicide risk in this vulnerable population; and current protocols for suicide prevention programs in jails and prisons."

 "The Jail Suicide Assessment Tool (JSAT) is a suggested interview format for conducting structured suicide risk assessment interviews with adults who are incarcerated. The foundation of the JSAT is based upon two points: I) The kind of information obtained through a structured clinical interview is superior to the results of any single psychological test or scale, and 2) The essential feature of assessing suicidal risk is informed, professional judgment. The primary purpose o/the JSAT is to cue correction-based menial health practitioners in the gathering of information generally viewed as essential in the decision making process for assessing suicide risk. This instrument can also be used to train staff, objectively evaluate mental health practices, clarify processes for litigation purposes, while serving as a point for future research and agency policy discussion."

Here you will find the TCJS suicide screening forms.

"The Shield of Care™ is copyrighted by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS). It is an eight hour curriculum intended to be used in its entirety. The video, "Second Glances" was intentionally embedded in the power point presentation to help participants understand the different levels of suicide risk. In addition, this training includes many interactive exercises to help the participant understand various concepts in suicide prevention."


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