Suicide rate in Scottish prisons lower than in much of Europe

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Of course, all suicides are deeply tragic, inside or outside of prison, but it’s important that they are represented in the media accurately and tastefully, in the interests of all: prisoners, warders, relatives, decision-makers, all of us. Contrary to the image presented by Reporting Scotland and even by the National, suicide is relatively low in Scottish prisons and is falling. See this earlier report regarding the level:

Exploiting one tragic prison suicide to fake a crisis. Yes, it’s Reporting Scotland again.

As for geographical comparison, I’m grateful to reader:

for providing a useful link in a response to the above report. Based on this 2017 research:


We can see that, suicide in Scottish prisons, 69 per 100 000 prisoners is less common than in most European countries, including England & Wales, at 83 per 100 000 prisoners:


There’s clearly something to be learned from Northern Ireland, Ireland and Poland – Catholicism? We can also see, below, that the rate in prison is only slightly higher than that out of prison suggesting that prison conditions are not so harsh as to be exacerbating it:


You can see in the above that the suicide rate for men in Norway is notably higher than for the general public whereas for Scotland it is almost the same.

Less clear in its meaning to me is the fairly strong correlation in this data between the suicide rate in prisons and the overall incarceration rate suggesting that the higher the percentage of the population you put in jails the lower the suicide rate in prisons! Of course, many other cultural factors will be influential here. The outliers such as Norway and France are the most intriguing and puzzling. Could it be that in a country where incarceration is rare, it is more shocking, shameful, isolating, to be punished in this way?


The more people you put in prison, the lower the suicide rate there?



8 thoughts on “Suicide rate in Scottish prisons lower than in much of Europe

  1. Contrary April 4, 2019 / 8:09 am

    Thanks to Legerwood for the link to the report, it was very interesting, I was still contemplating it so hadn’t replied to your comment – my initial thoughts were similar to yours John. No real correlation to anything in particular means there is a complex set of associations for here.

    Good news! Even the radio is reporting it as good news – surrounded by various reports of ‘failures’ but they are so overshadowed they’re on a hiding to nothing today – 90% reduction in cervical cancer from the recently introduced vaccination! Fantastic. Based on these results they are hoping to introduce other vaccinations for similar virus-caused cancers. This really is brilliant progress.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Les Cunningham April 4, 2019 / 9:43 am

      Since suicide is considered a sin by Catholics, is it possible that in Catholic countries some suicides in prison are passed off as being due to accident or natural causes, to spare the feelings of the deceased person’s family?

      One possible reason for an inverse relationship between prison population and suicide rate might be that, while all countries imprison people convicted of serious crimes, they probably vary significantly in their treatment of minor offenders. Punishing minor crimes with short prison sentences, rather than fines, probation or community service, will boost the prison population. Perhaps people serving short sentences are much less likely to commit suicide than people facing many years in prison?


      • Contrary April 4, 2019 / 7:51 pm

        Good reasoning Les, I hadn’t thought of the sin part for Catholics – in this case maybe feeling guilt is a good thing? – but yes, reporting of cause of death could err on the side of consideration for the deceased’s family.

        What sort of crimes are people imprisoned for (e.g was the background cause actually drug or alcohol abuse, while shoplifting the crime, and cold turkey might be too much,,,), as well as duration could play a significant role – I think the causative factors will be many different ones intertwined.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ludo Thierry April 4, 2019 / 11:29 am

    Hi Contrary – can I echo your comments regarding today’s figures indicating the massive benefits from the HPV vaccination programme in Scotland? – Simply wonderful news. Well done NHS Scotland and the Scottish Govt and Parlt.

    Hi John – By chance the Scottish Legal site is carrying a short piece regarding the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Stats for 2018 (known as SPACE) – They report a 4.1% reduction in the Scottish prison population between 2016-2018. Amazing what a bit of sustained focus by a joined-up Scottish Government can achieve. Come on Scotland – Gie’s the tools and there’s a Scottish focussed Govt. there to do the whole job – Next stop = Indy. Link and snippets below:

    Scotland’s prison population drops by four per cent

    The Scottish prison population fell by 4.1 per cent between 2016 and 2018 while the overall imprisonment rate in Europe fell by nearly seven per cent, new figures reveal.

    The Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics for 2018 (SPACE), published yesterday, reveals that a downwards trend in European prisoner figures which began in 2012 has continued.

    The incarceration rate in Scotland declined by 12.5 per cent while there was a 10.5 per cent decrease in Northern Ireland, and a 6.5 per cent decline in England and Wales.

    There were 136.5 prisoners per 100,000 people in Scotland on 31 January 2018, according to the SPACE report.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alasdair Macdonald April 4, 2019 / 6:24 pm

    Looking at the data for women, in every country on the list the rate for imprisoned women is substantially greater than for those not in prison, which suggests that there is grounds for examining this more closely. A couple of years ago, I attended a presentation by a retired prison governor, who had been the first woman in the UK (she was from Northern Ireland) to be governor of a male prison. She had benngovernor of several women’s prisons and had supervised Myra Hindley and Rose West. She was strongly of the view that, in general, women should not be imprisoned, although she recognised that there are exceptions, such as the two mentioned. (She was of the view that Myra Hindley, who was alive at the time, should never be released.) Many women who are in prison have children and that, of itself, she considered a very powerful reason for not considering imprisonment. In addition, with very few exceptions, women prisoners had been victims of sexual abuse as children and adolescents. Many had had long periods within the care system. Almost all women who are in prison do not present a danger to the community. The young woman whose parents have raised the issue, presented no future danger to others and so continued incarceration was probably wrong. I say ‘probably’ because the views of the vicim’s family and of other families who have suffered loss because of drinking and driving. They have to be reassured that society opposes such misbehaviour and that there is some degree of retribution/desert. It is not an easy call. Solomon, where are you?

    These arguments apply to many male prisonets, too. And that is a reason for using alternatives to imprisonment. However, greater numbers of male pridonets are imprisoned for crimes of violence and, for public safety, imprisonment is justified. However, by reducing the overall prison population and by removing priso sentences of, say, less than 2 years, there would be much more scope for prison service staff to work constructively with violent offenders to effect changes in behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

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