Correctional Services Canada has formulated a plan entitled “The National Strategy for the Prevention of Suicide and Reduction of Self-Injury.” This plan was formulated to combat suicides within correctional facilities. The key points of this plan focus on staff training, early identification of potential suicides, information sharing, and quick intervention and support for people affected by an inmate's suicide (Correctional Services Canada, 1994, p. 6). Although the Correctional Service of Canada has made attempts at reducing inmate suicide, the task of suicide prevention has remained a much lower priority for prison officials than the tasks of control and containment.

Intervention

It has often been documented that the majority of suicide attempts in Canadian correctional institutions do not culminate in death, but the rate for attempted suicides versus successful suicides is not known. This is because of the differences in reporting practices across institutions. Many institutions report such acts as body mutilation as a suicide attempt whereas, in actuality, it may not have been an attempted suicide. It is therefore unknown whether official intervention is adequate.

Correctional settings generally provide custodial rather than therapeutic care for suicidal inmates. Breakdowns in communication whereby custodial staff were unaware that an inmate had been designated a suicide risk by therapeutic staff, delays in transfers to clinical facilities, understaffed and inadequate psychiatric facilities and insufficient surveillance of high risk suicidal inmates have consistently hampered efforts at effective inmate suicide intervention.

Communication of information regarding the past or recent behaviour of suicidal inmates needs to be encouraged within institutions and between jurisdictions and institutions. The reporting of information about suicidal inmates has been found to include numerous deficiencies, such as reporting periods, definitions, categories of incident, time-frames, causes of the incident, sex, age, race, employment history of the victim, methods and weapons involved, length of incarceration, form of imprisonment and type and severity of injury. While most local corrections facilities have developed reporting formats, many lack the detail needed for efficiently communicating information about suicide incidents, and so have been open to misinterpretation. A standard data collection form, universally enforced, would promote standardized reporting. A central collating agency, such as the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, would also be necessary so data could be standardized and the analysis and feedback of study results made more readily accessible. However, because the collation of data on inmate suicidal behaviour would not in itself contribute to the prevention of suicide, a thorough and continuing study of the data collected needs to be encouraged and the results shared among jurisdictions. The communication of information is not only relevant to intervention issues, but is also important in relation to the treatment of suicidal inmates.

All suicide risks must be treated seriously, and treated on an individual basis. An interdisciplinary approach needs to be developed so that inmate suicide will not be viewed as strictly a security matter or as entirely a medical problem. Suicide intervention requires a decision to either isolate the individual with supervision, or to place the inmate in fuller association with others. The individual facts of each case would be what suggests to staff members which method would be appropriate. Self- help and peer group assistance, inmate watch and supervision by staff are further practical measures to intervene in a suicidal crisis in the early stages. All incidents of self-inflicted injury or attempted suicide should be reported to the institutional psychiatrist, psychologist or health care staff.


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