Monday, May 7, 2012

incidence of suicide among sex crime defendants

According to the September 2009 Federal Probation journal, people who are charged with sex crimes are almost routinely released during the pre-trial phase of the case.
As a group, defendants charged with sexual exploitation charges are typically released at the pretrial stage at a higher rate than defendants with other types of pending charges. In 2006, for example, 53 percent of sex crime defendants were released prior to trial, primarily because they are assessed and classified—correctly, it turns out—to be at low risk for absconding or committing a new offense while on pretrial release.
The 2009 article says that studies of suicide risk deal mostly with people in jail; not much research has been done to learn how many people not in jail commit suicide when they are under investigation or charged with sex crimes but not in jail.
Although no nationwide estimates of suicide attempts or completions among federal pretrial sex crime defendants have been generated, the problem gained attention after several well-publicized suicides occurred in two California federal districts. From 2003 to 2005, the Central District of California experienced four separate suicides of defendants charged with possession of child pornography. In an eight-month span in 2008, the Northern District of California experienced seven suicides of defendants being investigated or charged with sexual exploitation (mostly possession of child pornography).
Seven suicides in eight months! This is shocking but even more shocking is knowing that there have been no nationwide studies to determine the frequency of suicide among people "investigated or charged with...possession of child pornography."

The Federal Probation article talks about what could be done to prevent those suicides--

...the U.S. Pretrial Services Office in the Central District of California created a program to protect defendants against self incrimination while managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidality. The program was developed in collaboration with a mental health provider, the federal defender’s office, and the court. The program model/curriculum consists of five modules:
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Support (group sessions)
  • Healthy Coping Skills
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Keys to Successful Incarceration (prison preparation)
I suppose we should be grateful that California is doing something to prevent suicides among this group. I would be even more grateful if legislators would confront the question of whether a death sentence--seven suicides in eight months?--is altogether too much for possession of images of someone else's crime.   

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