It’s no surprise among correctional officers that juveniles within the juvenile justice system are at a high risk for suicide. But what is not widely appreciated is that correctional officers and other professionals within the juvenile justice system must play a crucial role in preventing suicide through guidance, support, and access to quality care.
Recent studies show that as many as 70 percent of all juveniles within the system have a behavioral health problem, meaning that at least one or more of their life functions are significantly impaired. At the same time, many of these troubled juveniles are dealing with difficult childhood events. These factors are large contributors to feelings of hopeless and isolated, thereby increasing their risk of suicide.
Statistics (from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange) among juveniles in the juvenile justice system reflect this epidemic:
- About one-third of all juveniles in confinement reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year.
- About 36 percent of all these juveniles have attempted suicide at least once before.
- Suicide is the leading cause of death among confined juveniles.
- Confined juveniles have a suicide rate that is nearly three times that of their peers in the general population
The need to address the issue of suicide among youth in the juvenile justice system must be recognized by everyone who comes in contact with them, including correctional officers, mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, child welfare advocates, and educators, and every part of the juvenile justice team must be able to collaborate and provide client-centered services for the juveniles and their families. Suicide prevention should be a priority with all providers at all points of contact within the juvenile justice system.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention recently released a number of suicide prevention resources for all staff members within the juvenile justice system. These tools are designed to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP), which works to prevent suicide throughout the country.