Characteristics and precipitating circumstances of suicide among incarcerated youth
Ruch, D.A., Sheftall, A.H., Schlagbaum, P., Fontanella, C.A., Campo, J.V., & Bridge, J.A.
Studies show incarcerated youth are at increased risk for suicidal behavior, yet little is known about factors associated with suicide for this population. Using a nationally representative sample, this study examined characteristics and precipitating circumstances of suicide in incarcerated youth decedents compared with youth suicide decedents in the general population.
Data were analyzed for suicide decedents 10 to 24 years old (N = 10,126) in the United States from 2003 through 2012 from the National Violent Death Reporting System. Logistic regression compared precipitating circumstances of suicide for incarcerated youth decedents and those not in custody. Details on suicide deaths in detained youth were captured from coroner/medical examiner and law enforcement reports associated with each incident.
Most youth suicide decedents were older, white, and male regardless of incarceration status. Incarcerated youth suicide decedents were more likely to die by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation and less likely to disclose suicide intent, leave a suicide note, or exhibit depressive symptoms compared with those not in custody. Additional risk factors for suicide were not significantly different between youth decedents in custody and those not in custody, suggesting that unique aspects of the incarceration environment could be associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Study findings highlight the need for early suicide risk detection and developmentally relevant interventions tailored for youth in correctional settings. Future efforts should include evaluation studies to support suicide prevention programs designed for incarcerated youth and research that examines distinctive factors associated with suicidal behavior in youth in custody.