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We aimed to estimate the prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt among prisoners in New South Wales, Australia; and, among prisoners reporting suicidal ideation, to identify factors associated with suicide attempt.
A cross-sectional design was used. Participants were a random, stratified sample of 996 inmates who completed a telephone survey. The estimated population prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt were calculated and differences by sex and Aboriginality were tested using χ2 tests. Correlates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt were tested using logistic regression.
One-third of inmates reported lifetime suicidal ideation and one-fifth had attempted suicide. Women and Aboriginal participants were significantly more likely than men and non-Aboriginal participants, respectively, to report attempting suicide. Correlates of suicidal ideation included violent offending, traumatic brain injury, depression, self-harm, and psychiatric hospitalisation. Univariate correlates of suicide attempt among ideators were childhood out-of-home care, parental incarceration and psychiatric hospitalization; however, none of these remained significant in a multivariate model.
Suicidal ideation and attempts are highly prevalent among prisoners compared to the general community. Assessment of suicide risk is a critical task for mental health clinicians in prisons. Attention should be given to ensuring assessments are gender- and culturally sensitive. Indicators of mental illness may not be accurate predictors of suicide attempt. Indicators of childhood trauma appear to be particularly relevant to risk of suicide attempt among prisoners and should be given attention as part of risk assessments.