Professor of Criminal Justice, Stockton University
- From 1977 through 2010, the average rate of suicides per year on death row was 2.74, while the mean rate was 129.7 per 100,000 per year. This is substantially higher than the rate of suicide for males over age 15 outside prison and for inmates in state prisons at that time.
- While the suicide rate for males outside prison has remained relatively stable over the past 30 years, suicide rates in both state prisons and on death row have decreased gradually since the late 1970s.
- A greater number of executions in a given year were associated with a lower suicide rate on death row.
- There was no association between commutations and suicides.
In the article, “Suicide on Death Row,” Tartaro and Lester extend their prior research on suicide rates on death row to determine the rate of suicide for death row inmates from 1978 through 2010. They used data from the annual U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Capital Punishment series; data for suicides in state prisons were calculated from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The suicide rate on death row declined but also fluctuated greatly during the study, with the small number of inmates on death row contributing to the size of the fluctuations. The authors also address issues related to housing and activities of death row inmates, as well as the psychological effects of their crimes and the possibility of being executed for them.