U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Basics and Beyond: Suicide Prevention in Jails

NCJ Number
Date Published
44 pages

This report reviews the problem of suicide among jail inmates, discusses their suicide risk, and recommends intervention procedures and best practices for preventing such suicides.


Jail environments are conducive to inmate suicide attempts due to a diminishment in personal control, the separation of inmates from social-support networks, isolation/privacy, and a lack of mental health resources. Also, jails tend to house inmates who bring with them a high risk for suicide, in that they are usually young men with mental illness who have abused substances and previously attempted suicide. Suicide risk is further increased by the shame of incarceration, fear of the unknown, fear of other inmates, and relationship stressors. The challenges in addressing jail-inmate suicides are to provide ongoing suicide-prevention training for jail staff and to develop a comprehensive suicide-prevention policy. These challenges are particularly critical for small jails (less than 50 inmates), since suicides are 5 times higher than in larger jails. This report specifies all the suicide risks posed by being a jail inmate. A "risk factor" is defined as "a characteristic of a large sample of people who have committed suicide that appears to be statistically more common than would be expected." Warning signs for a suicide attempt while in jail are also outlined. Best practices of preventing suicide among jail inmates are then discussed. Best prevention practices pertain to a training program for staff with annual refreshers; identification, referral, and evaluation upon admission to the jail; housing conditions; observation and treatment plans; intervention based on evaluation; notification and reporting; and critical-incident stress debriefing and mortality-morbidity review. The features of an emergency response should an inmate attempt suicide are also described. Practice drills are recommended as well. Various types of resources are listed.