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MSU study seeks to reduce post-jail suicides

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A Michigan State University professor is embarking on a study that seeks to reduce suicides among recently released jail inmates.

Ten percent of all suicides in  the U.S. with a known cause happen after a recent criminal legal problem like arrest and jail detention, according to Jennifer Johnson, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at M.S.U.'s College of Medicine.

"Jails catch those at risk, and tend to catch them at a time that's particularly stressful," Johnson said. "You know most people aren't arrested when everything's going great in their lives."  

Johnson has been awarded $6.8 million from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Justice to prevent people from taking their own lives after being arrested or serving jail time.

With almost 12 million admissions each year to jails across the country, post-release suicide prevention is a key public health goal, according to Johnson.

The four-year study will follow 800 recently released detainees from the Genesee County Jail in Flint, and the Department of Corrections in Cranston, Rhode Island. It will compare the results of current post-release care to a newer intervention strategy, similar to one used in emergency rooms.

Johnson will conduct the study with co-investigator Lauren Weinstock, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.