Suicides in Prison

Suicides in Prison

Suicides in Prison

Suicides in Prison


This is a major study that draws directly on the experiences of prisoners and staff, tracing the recent history of the problem and providing a theoretical discussion of the nature and causes of suicide in prison.


In 1981, a series of self-inflicted deaths and suicides began in the Glenochil complex for young offenders, in Scotland. There had been no deaths at the establishment until this time. The suicide rate for Scotland as a whole had been increasing over many years and this increase had been quite marked amongst young men in the 15-24 age group. The annual rate of suicide per 100,000 had increased from 7.2 in 1971 to 11.6 in 1981 (Scottish Home and Health Department (SHHD) 1985:15). However, as the authors of a Working Group Report reviewing suicide precautions at Glenochil pointed out, there was:

no remarkable change in the national trend in 1981 that would help to explain the deaths at Glenochil over the past few years. In any case, it is clear that the rates within the complex are much higher than in the general population.

(SHHD, 1985:15)

Since the Glenochil suicides occurred in the early 1980s, similar deaths amongst young offenders in custody occurred in England and Wales, sometimes in series, and increasingly, in apparently disproportionate numbers to those occurring either in the community or in prison. The relative neglect of the prison suicide problem in research, yet its attraction for media and campaigning organisations left an absence of reliable or helpful information from which policy and practice could be advised. The gap was filled by myth, cliché and fear on the one hand, and innovation on the other. Inside prisons, a wealth of information and experience existed and examples of good practice in averting suicide attempts could be found. Importantly, staff and prisoners could provide many clues as to the possible causes of suicides in prison. They had never been asked for their account of the problem; where they had spoken, their voices had seldom been heard.

These events and the official and public responses to them provide an important context in which the material to follow in the rest of this book might be understood. This Introduction will trace the rise in young prisoner suicides throughout the 1980s and attempts made by the Prison Department to reduce these and other prison suicides. The increasing prominence of the young prisoner suicide issue in the media, and the distress caused to prison staff expected to manage and prevent such attempts precipitated many important initiatives intended to tackle the problem in . . .

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