Year: 2019 Source: Crisis. (2019). 40(1), 42-53. SIEC No: 20190235

Background: Suicide is a leading cause of mortality in prisoners worldwide, yet empirical data on this matter are lacking in Belgium. Aims: This study sought to describe characteristics associated with a consecutive series of suicides in Belgian prisons from 2000 to 2016 inclusive, in order to inform suicide prevention strategies. Method: All documented cases of suicide (N = 262) were reviewed using a standardized assessment checklist. Official records were abstracted for prisoners’ sociodemographic, criminological, and clinical information, as well as for suicide-related characteristics. Results: Over the 17-year study period, suicides accounted for one third of all deaths in Belgian prisons. The average annual suicide rate in Belgium from 2000 to 2016 was 156.2 per 100,000 prisoners. Examination of all cases highlights both individual (psychiatric disorders and a history of suicide attempt) and situational (the early period of incarceration, interfacility transfers, and placement in solitary confinement) factors common in many prison suicides; some of them amenable to (clinical) management, which presents several potential avenues for suicide prevention. Limitations: Given the absence of a matched control group, no conclusions could be ascertained regarding risk factors. Conclusion: Suicide is a common, preventable cause of death among prisoners in Belgium. The results underscore the timely need for national standards and guidelines for suicide prevention in Belgian prisons.