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Suicide and Prisons. A Forensic Psychology Podcast Episode.

suicide and prisons a forensic psychology podcast episode

Stepping away from clinical psychology and looking at suicide through that lens, we now need to look at how the forensic psychology of suicide by looking at criminals and suicide. I have spoken about this in my Forensic Psychology book, but in today’s podcast episode we’re going to look at it from another angle. This is going to be really, really interesting!

Today’s episode has been sponsored by Forensic Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Suicide and Prisons

There are two “danger zones” for suicide when it comes to criminals. The first is when they are arrested and taken to jail at the police station or something like this before they go to prison. As well as the second danger zone is when they go to prison itself.

Both of these situations and places are suicidal danger zones (especially in the first 24 hours) because the criminal’s future looks so uncertain to them. And as we spoke about in the last podcast episode on suicide, is that uncertainty about the future and inability to see a better one, that leads to suicidal ideation. Then the attempt itself.

As a result, this is why suicide rates in prisons are extremely high compared to the outside world.

But besides from the lack of a certain future, what other factors increase the risk of suicide in prisons?

Crying Wolf:

Now of course the crying wolf title isn’t anything official but it is an easy way to imagine what the research shows. For example, we have all seen at least once or twice a TV programme or film where the prisoner screams about their in pain, they need to see a doctor or they’re going to kill themselves if something doesn’t happen. Then if someone does help them then they are attacked and the prisoners escape.

In reality, this rarely happens but because it is overly in Television. It sort of becomes part of our collective knowledge so we expect it to happen. This doesn’t help the situation, especially considering what I say below.

This does happen in the real world and sadly there are inmates that fake real suicide ideation.

Leading to the prison officers to conclude that all prisons are simply crying wolf and are lying.

Meaning no prison officers are going to help them.

Personally I can understand this because even the most compassionate prison officers can become immune to these cries for help. And then if you read into forensic psychology and the workplace culture of prisons, then you learn that it is understandable for the officers not to be too helpful towards the inmates. Unfortunately.

Hardening Officers:

As I mentioned in the above section, over time as a compassionate and hopeful new prison officer gets to experience prisoners and what work is actually like inside a prison. This can lead to them hardening their attitudes towards the inmates making them harsher, stricter and generally less likely to believe them and this affects their judgements too.

Again I do understand this because it isn’t easy working in a prison. And you must have to deal with some truly horrible people on the more extreme end of the scale. Then again, you get to work with some good people too that have simply made a bad choice.

But as we know from Cognitive and Social Psychology, we always tend to remember the bad more than the good.

In addition, it is terrible that “just dessert” sentiments flow free in our society. Meaning even if a prison officer believes the criminal will commit suicide they may not bother trying to prevent it, because it is what they deserve.

Prolonged Sentences:

A final reason for suicide in prisons can be linked to inmates who are serving a prolonged prison sentence. For example, a life sentence or a whole life sentence. As this prolonged length of prison time can make inmates think that suicide is a reasonable reaction to such a sentence.

And interestingly people on the outside believe it too.

Of course there are more people that serve long prison sentences and do not commit suicide, but depression and suicidality are common like we spoke about before.

What Is Done?

All prisons have different processes in place for suicidal inmates but there are problems with everything. For example, in one place if an inmate was seen to be suicidal, they would have their cell stripped of every single thing that could be used to end themselves with. Even their sheets and mattress, so the inmate was given a strange foam thing to cover themselves with

at night.

But inmates can still climb up on their sink and jump. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

In addition, if suicidal inmates don’t stop in their ideation then they can be moved to hospitals for treatment. And lots of other complicated and unfortunately bureaucratic processes can happen too.

However, what is interesting is Joseph H. Baskin, M.D says that impulsivity suicidal inmates are actually easier to work with because they want to be helped and regarded. So it might be easier to reach out, form a therapeutic relationship and help them.

But still, the combination of hopelessness and impulsivity is deadly.


Forensic psychology will always be one of my favourite areas of psychology. But this is both a fascinating and tragic topic to look at, because retribution doesn’t get us anywhere so these “just dessert” sentiments are deadly. And even though these people have made bad choices, it doesn’t mean they need to commit suicide.

So hopefully in the future more can be done to help prevent this, and decrease the alarmingly high suicide rate amongst prisoners.

I really hope you enjoyed today’s episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Forensic Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Forensic Psychology Reference:

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