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Assessing American Indian Suicide Risk: Can Screening be Culturally Sensitive?

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 66 Issue: 3 Dated: June 2004 Pages: 30-31
Date Published
June 2004
2 pages

This article describes a study of the high suicide rate among American Indians detained in a jail in the Northern Plains area of the United States.


All detainees are screened for suicide risk upon entering a correctional facility; however, the article cautions that these screening tools can be culturally sensitive and therefore not as accurate when used with a member of a minority culture. A study funded by the National Institute of Justice is described in which the particularly high rate of American Indian suicides at a jail in the Northern Plains area of the United States caused researchers to investigate the suicide screening tool used at the facility. During the 2 year study, American Indian respondents described the suicide screening questions and process as unsettling and intrusive. These detainees were less open with screeners about their physical and mental health and use of alcohol or drugs because they viewed the screening process as intrusive and they feared the consequences of their responses. Cultural differences also affect the way in which issues such as mental health are viewed. American Indians are hesitant to label someone as mentally ill and regard mental illness as a White person's disease. Thus, when asked about their mental health history in a screening interview, American Indians were not as forthcoming as other detainees. Researchers also found that detainees of all cultures preferred a private setting when answering personal questions regarding mental health or the use of drugs and alcohol. While the current study was exploratory, the results suggest that screening tools should be modified to fit the various cultures with which the United States criminal justice system comes into contact. Another interesting finding that emerged during the research was that a history of traumatic life events may be a risk factor for jail suicide; this finding should be further explored. Endnotes

Date Published: June 1, 2004