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Nationwide Children's Hospital Studies Suicides By Incarcerated Youths

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
John Minchillo
Associated Press
Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.

A U.S. Department of Justice survey found that from 2010 to 2014, incarcerated children had suicide rates two to three times higher than their peers in the general population.

Nationwide Children's Hospital researchers dug into that disparity, and published a study this week in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researcher Donna Ruch says risk factors for youth suicide - like history of suicide attempts, mental health conditions and substance abuse - were not significantly different between the two groups. But a few other factors did differ.

"They were less likely to disclose suicide intent or even leave a suicide note," Ruch says.

That may mean there's room for improvement in terms of vigilance and risk assessments for youth in jail or juvenile detention. Ruch argues those assessments should happen consistently, not just at the point of entry.

Ruch pointed out that the trauma of incarceration may be a contributing factor to the disparity, and that institutions should look at the timing of the suicides.

"Prevention efforts should really focus on that: This immediate incarceration experience seems to be a high risk period," she says.

She hopes that institutions will take note, and find ways to reach children before the situation becomes a crisis.

"The development and implementation of programs that really look at the unique conditions of confinement, and then really looking at a greater attention to... the overall safety of the correctional environment," she says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.