Recently released prisoners in England and Wales at high risk of suicide

July 06, 2006

Recently released prisoners in England and Wales are at a much greater risk of suicide than the general population, according to a study in this week's issue of The Lancet.

Several studies have looked at suicide in custody, but few after release from prison. To investigate, Jennifer Shaw (University of Manchester, UK) and colleagues used a national database to identify all individuals in England and Wales who had died by suicide or who had received an open verdict* at the coroner's inquest between 2000 and 2002. The researchers then identified which of these suicides were by people within 1 year of release from prison in England and Wales.

The researchers found that in 244 988 released prisoners, 382 suicides (34 women, 348 men) had occurred within 1 year of release. The suicide rate between recently release women and men was similar, but compared with the general population, the relative risk in women was substantially higher than in men. Recently released men were eight times and women 36 times more likely to commit suicide within 1 year of release from prison than would be expected of their counterparts in the general population. The investigators also found that risk was particularly raised during the first 28 days, during which about a fifth of suicides occurred. The authors concluded that insufficient continuity of care for those with mental-health problems and difficulties finding employment and accommodation upon release may contribute towards the higher suicide risk in recently released prisoners.

Dr Shaw states: "The risk of suicide in recently release prisoners is approaching the level of risk seen in discharged psychiatric patients...Our findings highlight the need for shared responsibility of the prison, probation, health, and community services including social services, housing, and benefits to provide good quality, integrated, mental-health care and social support for prisoners, both before and after release from prison."

In an accompanying Editorial The Lancet comments: "Suicides in released prisoners reflect not only the shortcomings in agencies involved, but ultimately society's attitudes to rehabilitation and re-integration."
Dr Jenny Shaw, Centre for Suicide Prevention, School of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
University of Manchester
M13 9PL, Manchester, UK.
T) 01772 406631

Notes to editors
*Most open verdicts are conventionally defined as suicide.


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