Download document: Unlocking the evidence: Understanding Suicide in Prisons
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People in prison are significantly more likely to die by suicide than people in the general population.
People in prison are more likely to die by suicide compared to people living in the community. Samaritans supports people in prisons through our award-winning Listener scheme, but we also know that wider changes are needed from the Government to help save lives of those.
The increased risk of suicide among people in prison is due to a unique combination of pre-existing factors and the prison environment itself. People in prison are more likely to come from deprived economic backgrounds, more likely to experience alcohol- and drug-related harms, and more likely to have lived through traumatic life events. Evidence shows that all of these factors are connected to suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions.
Additionally, the isolation and harsh environment in prison can make things worse and people can also experience other things in prison which are connected to suicidality, like bullying or bereavement by suicide. However, suicide is a complex issue and can rarely be attributed to one factor. Environment, mental wellbeing, external stimuli and access to means all contribute to suicide risk.
Read about what we are calling for to better support people in prison and leaving prison in England and Wales Policy position people in prison and leaving prison England and Wales
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In prisons, suicide risk is a combination of life experiences before imprisonment and the pains of prison life.
Our research confirms that key risk factors, especially mental ill-health, past self-harm, traumatic life experiences and a background of disadvantage are disproportionately common among prisoners. This puts them at a higher risk of suicide before they have even entered prison.
Features unique to the prison environment such as social and physical isolation, uncertainty about sentencing, inconsistent regime and greater likelihood of exposure to suicide can make this risk worse.
Being a Listener, I’ve come to see how much anguish, pain, suffering and loneliness is out there, and I’ve come to understand how important Listeners are, and what we represent.
Listener, HMP Exeter