Suicide in prison : a comparison between France and its European neighbours

Population and Societies

462, December 2009

The frequency of suicide has long been used as an indicator of tensions and problems in society. In French prisons, the number of suicides has increased considerably over the last fifty years and prison overcrowding is often blamed for this trend. But are there any other causal factors? How does France compare with its European neighbours?
The suicide rate in French prisons has increased five-fold in 50 years, while remaining stable among the general population. The prison occupancy rates do not follow a parallel trend, so overcrowding cannot be the sole reason for this increase. Prisons contain many psychologically vulnerable individuals, with a high suicide risk, whose profile is different from that of the general population. Pre-trial detainees commit suicide twice as often as sentenced prisoners and the frequency of suicide varies according to the gravity of the offence. The prison suicide rate in France, the highest recorded in the EU-15 countries, is 5 to 6 times higher than that of the non-imprisoned male population aged 15-59.

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