Study cites concerning gaps in suicide reporting by prisons

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - 5:01pm
Updated: Thursday, June 1, 2023 - 8:46am

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LeMasters et al., 2023, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (
State map by prison system suicide data grade. Republished from MapChart under a CC BY license, with permission from MapChart, original copyright 2014.

Research links both current and past incarceration to declines in mental health, and deinstitutionalization means people with mental illness often end up imprisoned.

Yet a new study in the journal PLOS ONE shows many states provide only sparse data regarding suicides behind prison walls — in violation of federal law.

The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 requires states to report deaths that occur during arrest or custody.

The study finds only 16 states provided free, detailed and updated data on carceral suicides; 13 offered incomplete data that was not always free; eight gave sparse or old data; and 13 furnished none at all.

Arizona received a grade of B, for states with frequent updates and data that is broad, incomplete or not freely provided. The state’s data mainly comprised system-level statistics and lacked detail on facilities or individuals.

The authors said, though suicides in-custody have grown and are now a leading cause of death among those incarcerated, national-level reports by the Bureau of Justice Statistics lag by approximately three years.

Meanwhile, data remain sparse concerning the mental health effects of COVID-19 on prisoners, especially those who were placed in solitary confinement for containment and social isolation during the pandemic.

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