Prisoners' motives for self‐injury and attempted suicide

Louisa Snow (Safer Custody Group, HM Prison Service)

The British Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 1463-6646

Publication date: 1 November 2002


This paper reports findings from a study of the social, situational and environmental factors that contribute to suicide and self‐injury in prison, focusing here on prisoners' motivations for their actions. In‐depth interviews were conducted with 143 prisoners in ten prisons in England and Wales who had engaged in an act of self‐injury or an attempt at suicide. The majority of participants described a number of precipitating or motivational factors related to concrete events, feelings/emotions (or both), operating within five different dimensions: offence‐related, interpersonal, symptom relief, instrumental and situational. In very few cases were there single reported causes. Motivational factors more prevalent among participants who attempted suicide included relationship problems, concerns about forthcoming court appearances and factors relating to drug withdrawal. Those who attempted suicide were more likely to describe concrete events or experiences as motivational factors. Those who injured themselves without suicidal intent were much more likely to describe negative feelings or emotions as precipitating factors. The results highlight the complex and multifactoral nature of suicidal and self‐injurious behaviours. At the very least they lend support to the suggestion that different strategies should be developed for those who attempt suicide and those who injure themselves for other reasons.


Snow, L. (2002), "Prisoners' motives for self‐injury and attempted suicide", The British Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 18-29.

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Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited

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