Inmates in the custody of federal and provincial corrections facilities are considered a high suicide risk group. Many factors have been noted as to why the suicide rate in prisons is higher than the rate in the general population. These range from factors surrounding incarceration to personal attributes. Since prisons have such a significant suicide rate, attempts have been made to reduce the incidence of suicide. Prevention, intervention and treatment techniques have been used to reduce inmate suicide.


Inmates are considered a high suicide risk group. In 1996-97, the adult inmate suicide rate was more than twice the suicide rate of the adult Canadian population (4.0 per 10,000 and 1.7 per 10,000 respectively) (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1998, p. 8), but has been noted as being up to 10 times as high as the national average (Canadian Press Newswire, 1996).

The suicide rate in federal facilities has not shown any really dramatic changes over recent years. From 1990-96, an average of 15 federal prisoners per year committed suicide (Canadian Press Newswire, 1996). In 1989-90, the number of suicides totalled 13 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1990, p.141), and for 1993-94, the number of suicides in federal facilities climbed to 24, and accounted for 49% of deaths in federal prisons (Correctional Services Canada, 1994, p. 6). This rate has fallen in recent years. In 1995-96, the number of suicides was only 17, and in 1996-97, it dropped even further to 10 which accounted for 21% of federal inmate deaths (CCJS, 1998, p. 8). The numbers are slightly higher for provincial correctional facilities. Provincial inmate suicides totalled 21 in 1989-90 (CCJS, 1990, p. 141) and in 1993-94, suicides totalled 23 and accounted for 46% of deaths (Correctional Services Canada, 1994. p. 6). In 1996-97, the suicide number climbed to 27, and constituted 61% of inmate deaths. Suicide constitutes the leading cause of death for those in custody.

Several observations have been made concerning suicide among individuals in custody:

both maximum and medium security institutions have higher rates of suicide than minimum security institutions, and remand centres show the highest rates (Staff member, personal communication, Correctional Service of Canada, February 2, 1999);
the majority of those who commit suicide are men: for 1991-97, 92 males committed suicide while only one female committed suicide (Correctional Services Canada, 1998);
age does not correlate with suicide rate;
a higher rate of suicide is evident in inmates convicted of crimes against another person than inmates convicted of property crimes;