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Embracing the SPIRIT of reducing suicide

NIMH and NIJ Collaborate on justice system study

Science Update

NIMH, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) have announced a significant collaboration on a new 4-year, $6.8 million study called Suicide Prevention for at-Risk Individuals in Transition or “SPIRIT.” The study will address a critical gap in evidence-based suicide prevention and focus on the high-risk individuals who are transitioning from jail to community. The study is NIMH’s largest major investment in suicide prevention in the justice system.

Jennifer E. Johnson, Ph.D ., C. S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and Lauren M. Weinstock,  Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Research) at Brown University and Clinical Psychologist at Butler Hospital are co-principal investigators on the study.

With nearly 12 million admissions per year and short stays, US jails serve as a catchment area for at-risk individuals at a time of high life stress and high suicide risk, providing an important opportunity for suicide prevention intervention. In fact, about 10 percent of all those who die by suicide are estimated to have had some type of recent criminal legal stressor (often an arrest and jail detention). Recent data from justice settings show high rates of suicide during jail detention (46 deaths per 100,000 people). Studies of post-release detainees find even higher rates (almost 3 times higher) of suicide deaths in the year following release. This study uses the jail setting as an opportunity to prevent suicide among high-risk individuals as they return to the community.

SPIRIT will use trained community mental health center providers to test a practical approach to reducing suicide by comparing it to standard care. SPIRIT researchers plan to enroll 800 detainees as they leave two different community jails: Genesee County Jail in Flint, Michigan and Rhode Island Department of Corrections in Cranston, Rhode Island. Participants will randomly be assigned to either standard care or the Safety Planning Intervention with telephone follow-up. Researchers will track improvements in suicidal behavior, and psychiatric and substance abuse outcomes as well as service use and re-arrest rates for both types of care. Findings from the research comparing the two types of care will help correctional setting and behavioral health program directors identify more effective programs for suicide prevention.


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The National Institute of Justice  -- the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice — is dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice.