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A new study carried out by a team of scientists at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in the US has suggested that there is a link between extreme heat and suicide rates among incarcerated men.

The researchers pulled together data on heat index (which covers both air temperature and relative humidity) and suicide watch incidents in six prisons across Louisiana, a state that has a densely populated prison system that is currently embroiled in litigation as a result of extreme heat.

It was found that extreme heat represents a distinct risk to those in prison, many of whom will already have high rates of behavioural health conditions and are in an overcrowded environment that doesn’t have air conditioning.

Furthermore, those in solitary confinement were found to be particularly susceptible to the risks posed by extreme heat because they’re less able to mitigate or avoid heat-related stress.

Although prisons are often afforded access to ice, fans and cold showers when faced with extreme heat, these policies only consider heat-related conditions, without including the psychological and behavioural effects of extreme heat.

The researchers concluded: “This study illuminates the connection between solitary confinement, extreme heat, and self-injury. 

“It offers evidence to enhance the public health rationale for urgent calls for air conditioning and other heat-mitigation protocols in carceral spaces in the short-term and underscores the importance of seeking long-term solutions through collective movement building in pursuit of environmental justice, human rights, and the abolition of carceral spaces.”

Away from the prison system, research also suggests that suicides in general are likely to increase in line with global warming. 

A new paper published in July in the Nature Climate Change journal by Stanford economist Marshall Burke suggested that an additional 21,000 suicides in the US and Mexico could be seen as a result of projected temperature increases between now and 2050.

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Suicide Bereavement UK

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Email: paul.higham@suicidebereavementuk.com