Incarceration and Suicide Study

Incarceration and Suicide Study

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: February 11th, 2022

A new study funded by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research looks at the association between incarceration and the risk of suicide and firearm suicide after release from prison.

This study published last month in the Journal of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior found that suicide risk was 62% higher among previously incarcerated individuals in Washington State compared to the general population. This risk was especially pronounced among individuals who were convicted of firearm-involved crimes, people whose first incarceration occurred prior to the age of 18, and people who have been incarcerated multiple times.

Compared to the population of Washington State, the risk of firearm suicide was lower for previously incarcerated individuals, unless the person had been convicted of a firearm-involved crime or was first released from prison as a minor.

“Suicide is a growing public health problem in the United States and is beginning to disproportionately affect historically marginalized populations. Our research supports the notion that the impact of incarceration on suicide risk is relevant in the context of U.S. healthcare and criminal-legal systems,” says the lead author Erin Morgan, PhD, HIPRC trainee, who conducted this study as part of her Doctoral Dissertation in the Department of Epidemiology.

This study was one of the first U.S. population-based studies of firearm suicide among previously incarcerated individuals and one of the largest US investigations of suicide risk after release from prison.

Authors concluded from their study that additional mental health resources in prison settings are warranted and as people transition back to the community to reduce the risk of suicide after release.

“Other researchers have found that mental health and substance use treatment are effective alternatives to incarceration in reducing recidivism. Hopefully, we will continue to expand and evaluate these types of diversion programs in-terms of their benefits on mental health and reducing the risk for suicide,” says Dr. Morgan.

The investigators represented the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC); the Departments of Epidemiology and Health Services at the UW School of Public Health; the Department of Pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine; the Policy Development and Evaluation Unit at Seattle & King County Public Health Department; the Kaiser Permanente Health Research Institute; and the Washington State Department of Corrections.

The study was conducted as part of Dr. Morgan’s Doctoral Dissertation in the Department of Epidemiology and was also part of HIPRC’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program, whose mission is to reduce the impact of firearm injury and death through interdisciplinary research and collaboration with institutional, community and government partners.