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Inmates Who Attempted Suicide in Prison: A Qualitative Study

27 July 2007


Suicide is a leading cause of death in prisons across the United States. Existing research on prison suicides has been criticized for focusing on static variables such as demographics and ignoring process variables. The purpose of the present investigation was to study the experiences of inmates who attempted suicide in order to shed light on factors associated with the suicide attempts in prison. A qualitative research project was conducted. Twenty-four inmates who attempted suicide in prison were interviewed in six state prison facilities in Oregon. The results were organized into three categories: mental health issues, relationship issues, and prison factors. Within the mental health category, the themes were depressive symptoms, symptoms of anxiety, hallucinations and/or paranoid ideation, medication-related problems, impulsivity, and religous beliefs. Inmates described their depressive symptoms in detail; several sub-themes emerged in this area. The relationship issues category was represented by themes of relationship problems involving one's family of procreation/partner outside of prison, family of origin/adoptive family, inmates, and staff members. Sub-themes were also identified in the latter theme. Prison factors included moves within the prison, employment/activity related difficulties, and placement in segregation. Inmate recommendations for suicide prevention are also discussed, along with other data such as psychosocial history of the participants, personal accounts of the suicide attempts, summaries of the individual attempts, and precipitating factors.


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