Incarceration worsens pre-existing health conditions and creates new ones. This is true of mental health as well. The daily stress of living in prison/jail, being removed from one’s community, and being provided inadequate mental health treatment can combine to create dangerous situations for an incarcerated person. Researchers and carceral administrators also understand that imprisoned people are uniquely at risk for suicide and self-harm during and after their incarceration.
While suicides in-custody have increased over time and are a leading cause of death in prisons, reporting on the national level by the Bureau of Justice Statistics lags approximately three years behind. In order to attempt to understand suicide in more real-time,, the 3rd City Project utilized multiple sources of death data from state and federal departments of correction (DOCs). Publicly available records, including statistical reports, press releases, and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, were reviewed to understand the connection between suicide and prison incarceration.
Our team found that only sixteen states provide information on suicides that are frequently-updated, detailed, and freely-given. Twenty-one states provided no information, or shared data that was outdated, lacked specificity, or required a FOIA request. Notably, only six states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Michigan, Tennessee) report suicide attempts. To learn more about this analysis and our methodology, view our PLoS One publication, titled “Suicides in state prisons in the United States: Highlighting gaps in data.”
In this publication, the authors describe the potential benefits from uplifting these gaps in data availability:
Improving transparency is central to advocating for health equity and carceral policies grounded in data. To that end, the 3rd City Project has published a data dashboard illustrating how DOCs communicate mortality data to the public. For additional information or to request curated datasets, please get in touch with us.