Background: The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Deaths in Custody Reporting Program is the primary source for jail suicide research, though the data is restricted from general dissemination. This study is the first to examine whether jail suicide data obtained from publicly available sources can help inform our understanding of this serious public health problem.
Methods: Of the 304 suicides that were reported through the DCRP in 2009, roughly 56 percent (N = 170) of those suicides were identified through the open-source search protocol. Each of the sources was assessed based on how much information was collected on the incident and the types of variables available. A descriptive analysis was then conducted on the variables that were present in both data sources. The four variables present in each data source were: (1) demographic characteristics of the victim, (2) the location of occurrence within the facility, (3) the location of occurrence by state, and (4) the size of the facility.
Results: Findings demonstrate that the prevalence and correlates of jail suicides are extremely similar in both open-source and official data. However, for almost every variable measured, open-source data captured as much information as official data did, if not more. Further, variables not found in official data were identified in the open-source database, thus allowing researchers to have a more nuanced understanding of the situational characteristics of the event. Conclusions: This research provides support for the argument in favor of including open-source data in jail suicide research as it illustrates how open-source data can be used to provide additional information not originally found in official data. In sum, this research is vital in terms of possible suicide prevention, which may be directly linked to being able to manipulate environmental factors.