Suicide is a global public health concern that affects all echelons of society, albeit not equally so. Compared with adults in the general population, incarcerated offenders are at increased risk to consider, attempt, and die by suicide, which represents a substantial burden of morbidity and mortality in prisons worldwide. This review synthesises recent literature pertaining to the epidemiology, risk factors, and prevention of suicidal thoughts and behaviour among prisoners, and outlines a framework which emphasises the interplay between individuals (importation) and their surroundings (deprivation).
The available evidence suggests that prison-specific stressors may exacerbate risk of suicide in an already vulnerable population characterised by complex health and social care needs. Emerging data point to differential mechanisms through which prisoners come to think about suicide and subsequently progress to suicidal behaviour. As risk of suicide is determined by a complex web of synergistically interacting factors, its management and prevention demands a cross-sectoral policy and service response that includes targeted interventions aimed at high-risk prisoners in combination with population strategies that promote the health and wellbeing of all people in prison.