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  • Ryan Wittler

Suicides in U.S. Jails and Prisons Are Up Over the Last Two Decades


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According to a new study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 695 people died by suicide in local jails and state and federal prisons in 2019. Just over half, 355 people, were inmates at local jails, while the other 340 were being held in state and federal prisons.


For context, while the terms “jail” and “prison” are often used interchangeably, there actually is a difference. Jails are run by local authorities and hold people for awaiting trial or for minor crimes. Prisons are run by states and the federal government (often contracting with private companies) and hold people convicted of more serious crimes.


A trend:


According to the BJS study, the number of suicides in local jails increased by 5% from 2018 to 2019, while suicides remained stable in state and federal prisons over that time.


Stretching back further, over the 20-year period from 2000 to 2019, the BJS found suicides in local jails increased by 13%. Over the 19-year period from 2001 to 2019, it found suicides in state and federal prisons increased by a staggering 83%.


It happens quickly:


The study found that over 75% of inmates at local jails who died by suicide from 2000 to 2019 were unconvicted and awaiting trial. Almost half (46%) had been held for just seven days or less at the time of their death.


The BJS also found that 57% of state prisoners and 54% of federal prisoners who died by suicide from 2015 to 2019, did so within their first five years in prison.


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