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The relevance of suicidal behaviour in jail and prison suicides

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2020

Stefan Fruehwald*
Clinical Department of Social Psychiatry, Vienna University Medical School, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, 1090Vienna, Austria
Patrick Frottier
Justizanstalt Wien-Mittersteig, Mittersteig 25, 1050Vienna, Austria
Teresa Matschnig
Clinical Department of Social Psychiatry, Vienna University Medical School, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, 1090Vienna, Austria
Reinhard Eher
Justizanstalt Wien-Mittersteig, Mittersteig 25, 1050Vienna, Austria
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Suicide rates in correctional institutions have been increasing during the last decades. There has been little interest in whether suicidal ideation and intent has been documented by non-medical prison staff (reports of attempted suicide, suicide threats, self-harm), and whether these signs of suicidality had the consequence of adequate intervention efforts.


The personal files of inmates who committed suicide in the 29 Austrian jails and prisons during the last 25 years (1975–1999) were included. We analysed personal characteristics, criminological data, circumstances of custody and information about psychiatric disorders and treatment.


Of a total of 250 suicides, 220 personal files were available and included. Suicide attempts were known in 50% of all suicides and 37% had expressed suicidality. In >20%, non-medical staff had documented signs of suicidality, but no further preventive action (e.g. referral to psychiatric care) had taken place.


Signs of suicidality play an important role in vulnerability profiles for jail and prison suicides and should have the minimal consequence of further psychiatric care.

Original article
Copyright © Éditions scientifiques et médicales Elsevier SAS 2003

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