Preliminary Results from the Women's Self-Injurious Behaviour Study

Key Words

women offenders, offender suicide, non-suicidal self-injury

Why we're doing this study

Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is deliberate bodily harm or disfigurement without suicidal intent and for purposes not socially sanctioned. NSSI and suicide attempts pose a serious challenge to CSC's ability to provide a safe environment for offenders and institutional staff. Yet, these behaviours are not well-understood. The purpose of the study is to improve the understanding of NSSI and suicide attempts that are undertaken by federally sentenced women in order to inform treatment, prevention and management of these behaviours in the institutions.

What we're doing

One-hundred and fifty participants were recruited for the study at Nova Institution, Joliette Institution, Grand Valley Institution, Fraser Valley Institution, Edmonton Institution for Women, Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, and the Regional Treatment Centre in the Prairies from July to October 2009. Recruitment involved posters, staff, directly approaching individuals, and meeting with offender committees (e.g., inmate committee, Native Sisterhood, pod representatives, house representatives).

Participants completed a semi-structured interview and a set of questionnaires. The protocol assessed a variety of issues, including the women's history of suicide and NSSI. Data were analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively.

What we've found so far

The average age of the 150 participants was 35.7 ± 10.7. Thirty-seven percent (n=56) of the participants were Aboriginal, which is comparable to the percentage of Aboriginal women in the general CSC population.

Fifty-seven women had at least one incident of NSSI. Of these, 93% (n=53) first self-injured before they were admitted to CSC. Eighty-three percent (n=47) had self-injured for the first time in the community, 5% (n=3) in a non-CSC institution, 7% (n=4) in a CSC institution, and 2% (n=1) in a non-CSC psychiatric institution. Forty percent (n=23) reported self-injuring after being admitted to CSC. Thirty-three percent (n=19) of women engaged in NSSI prior to being admitted to CSC and also while they were in a CSC institution.

  % (n)
(N = 150)
No Suicide Attempts or NSSI Ever 39.3 (59)
No NSSI Ever 62.0 (93)
At Least One Incident of NSSI Ever 38.0 (57)
At Least One Suicide Attempt Ever 49.3 (74)
Offenders with Suicide Attempts and/or NSSI 60.6 (91)
Suicide Attempts and NSSI 44.0 (40)
Suicide Attempts Only 37.4 (34)
NSSI Only 18.7 (17)

Of the 74 women who had attempted suicide, 93% (n=69) had first attempted suicide prior to being admitted to CSC. Eighty-five percent (n=63) of these women reported not having attempted suicide after being admitted to CSC.

Six percent (n=9) of participants reported that they still engage in NSSI and the same number were unsure if they would self-injure again. Sixty-seven percent (n=38) of those with a history of NSSI reported that they no longer self-injure.

What it means

The vast majority of participants had engaged in NSSI and suicide attempts prior to being admitted to CSC. Women offenders may be at increased risk of NSSI and suicide attempts prior to federal incarceration.

Prepared by: Jenelle Power


Research Branch
(613) 996-3287