Deprivation, importation, and prison suicide
Huey, Meredith P.
MetadataShow full item record
Previous research on suicide in U.S. prisons has focused the characteristics of inmates who commit suicide. These studies are largely descriptive, conducted within a single institution or department of correction, and overemphasize psychological explanations for suicide while ignoring the role of the prison environment. As a departure from prior research, this dissertation uses national data on 1,082 U.S. state prisons to examine how prison conditions, inmate composition, and their interaction predict prison suicide. More theoretically, the dissertation tests the deprivation and importation models of prison suicide. These historically competing perspectives respectively attribute suicide to either factors specific to the prison (deprivations) or characteristics that inmates bring with them (import) to prison. In testing these models, two analytic strategies are employed. First, prison suicide rates for each state are compared with the corresponding state rates for U.S. residents. Comparisons revealed that overall suicide rates in prison were slightly higher than those for the general community, but the difference was not statistically significant. Female inmate suicide rates, though, were substantially higher than the comparison rates for female U.S. residents (11.71 versus 5.03 per 100,000 population). Further analysis determined that prisons that experience female suicides were characterized by greater levels of deprivation (e.g., increased security levels, overcrowding, and violence) than those without suicide. In the second analytic approach, a series of negative binomial regression models are estimated, which capture the relative and combined effects of deprivation and importation indicators on the prison suicide count. The number of suicides was significantly increased in supermaximum and maximum security prisons (relative to minimum), under conditions of overcrowding and high levels of violence, and in prisons where a greater proportion of inmates received mental health services. Results of these analyses pointed to the combined effects of institutional conditions (security level, overcrowding, and violence) and inmate composition (mental health) on suicide. Deprivation variables were overwhelmingly predictive of suicide confirming the role of the prison environment in suicide. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed. Suggestions for future research on the topic are proposed.