Can you avoid prison by saying your suicidal?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Alcatraz prison

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If you say you are suicidal will you stay out of prison? How about jail?

Nice try! Not likely!

People try all sorts of things to get out of going to prison. While saying you are suicidal may slow the process down a wee bit it won’t prevent it.

Jails and prisons have psychiatric units. They can put people on suicide watch. So just because you say you are suicidal will not prevent you from serving a prison term.

People often confuse some very different ideas and the result is that they think things are one way when they are not. Here are the different concepts, very oversimplified. All of these, for the record, is very different from the popular conception of “crazy.”

Not guilty by reason of insanity.

This may get you off from the prison term but you may not be happy with the way it goes. Not guilty by reason of insanity means that at the time you committed the crime you did not understand that what you were doing was wrong. This is way beyond seriously and persistent mental illness and has nothing much to do with saying you want to kill yourself.

People who get this verdict go to a long-term psychiatric facility. You do not just stay for your 5 or 10. You stay until some psychiatrist is willing to risk his license on saying that you will not do this thing again and that you now have learned the difference between right and wrong.

I hear from clients who have been in these places that had they been up to going back to prison they might have chosen the prison.

Involuntary psychiatric hold.

There are three reasons you get placed on an involuntary hold. You say you will kill yourself, you threaten to kill someone else and we believe you, or when we give you food and clothing you can’t figure out what to do with this stuff.

This involuntary hold usually gets you sent to a local mental hospital. These are not long-term facilities by any means.

You stay here for, in my state, up to 72 hours for evaluation, and then at the discretion of the psychiatrist you might get put on a longer hold. For most people, this stay lasts a week to two. A stay beyond that is rare. Not the 72 hours is an “up to
” number. Lots of people get released in a lot less than 72 hours.

The objective here is to give you meds, get you stable and then send you somewhere else.

So if by some chance you convince someone you are going to harm yourself, you will get to stay here long enough for the meds to kick in and you to stop caring about what happens. At that point off you go to the prison unit.

While a prisoner is at this kind of hospital there will probably be one full-time guard watching them. They watch you all the time, everywhere. This gets annoying enough some about-to-be-sentenced people make sudden recoveries.

Seriously and persistently mentally ill.

If you can convince the powers that be that you have a long-term mental health problem you will get sent to a prison with a psychiatric unit at which you may be required to take your meds. You may have the right to say no, but the prison can go before a judge and get a court order to medicate you against your will. Also refusing meds results in a lot of reductions in privileges and options.

Should you say you are suicidal to get out of jail?

My advice to whoever sent this question in would be if you really are suicidal say so. But if you are not, do not try this dodge. The result could be more time and having to do things you do not want to do. You also run the risk of getting a label hung on you and face discrimination from the other prisoners. Who wants to do their whole time labeled a J-cat unless you really do need the meds.

Give it up. You did the crime, do the time and then consider doing something to rehabilitate yourself.

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6 thoughts on “Can you avoid prison by saying your suicidal?

  1. In the county where I work many people commit crimes & then say that they are suicidal. The cops bring them to the hospital & drop them off for security to babysit. They never go to jail.


    • Sorry to hear it works that way in your area. I believe this does happen for more minor crimes, vagrancy or vandalism. Let us hope that it is not happening that often for more serious things. Still I would not recommend that anyone caught by the police plan on using this as a way out of the consequences.


  2. Saying that you are suicidal seems more likely to get your room stripped and you sleeping on a bare mattress without clothes in case you yourself with them.

    If you commit a violent crime and then manage to convince a psychiatrist that you are seriously mentally ill then you risk spending the rest of your life in an institution.

    Commit a murder and go to jail – you serve your time and are freed. Commit a murder and go into a psychiatric hospital – its quite likely that you will never leave it.

    Also people need to avoid fake suicide attempts because they often succeed where they sought to fail. All it takes is a lost or blunt ligature knife etc.


    • Thanks for adding that. I have seen a number of kids who told their parents they would kill themselves if they did not get to go to a party, or if the parents took away the cell phone. Most got a very adult lesson about, “we do not always get what we want” after they were shipped off to the psych hospital. Since people can and do complete suicides while locked up the authorities can and should take any statement very seriously.


  3. I’ve worked with people who were on suicide watch in County lockups and you really, really don’t want to go there. In some of them you’re naked in a bare room and eyeballed frequently. And you don’t get out until they get a psychiatrist to pass you as OK, and they don’t particularly hurry to get the psych down to see you. In California there was a bit of scandal (not followed up) about people lying about whether they were suicidal– saying they were not– to get out of units that were horrible, then killing themselves. So by those people’s vote, the treatment for suicidality wasn’t as bad as killing themselves.


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