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Home > Research Articles > Suicide rate in prisons 10 times higher: study says

CBC News

Thursday, January 2, 2003

Last Updated Thu, 02 Jan 2003 9:01:46

KINGSTON, ONT. - Researchers studying Canada's prisons say corrections officials aren't doing enough to prevent suicides and drug overdoses in federal jails.

A new study suggests inmates of federal prisons are 10 times more likely to die of suicide than people in the general population, and 50 times more likely to die of a drug overdose.

The study looked at deaths in federal, provincial and police custody in Ontario, including more than 300 coroners' reports and inquests from 1990 to 1999.

The researchers from the Queen's University medical school compared the deaths of the prisoners with those of males of a similar age in the general Canadian population. The death rate was highest in the federal prisons.

Study author Peter Ford said he believes many of the deaths could have been prevented.

"We saw people where the records were in the coroners' files that indicated to us that some of these individuals had been on suicide watch, some of them right up to an hour or two before they committed suicide. So they were still high risk when the suicide watch was lifted," said Ford.

Wendy Wobeser, who headed the study, said she was surprised by the high rate of suicide in the federal system.

Ford said federal inmates have a more stable long-term setting and are supposed to have better programs and counselling.

"We did not see any evidence of a comprehensive intervention for suicide in the federal institutions and that may contribute to the finding," Wobeser said.

Ford said the study shows the need for better mental health and drug addiction programs.

Federal corrections officials said there are suicide prevention programs, but Ford and Wobeser said their study suggests the programs aren't stopping inmates from killing themselves.

Written by CBC News Online staff