Background: Several studies have been undertaken on suicide in custody, but few on suicide after the release from prison. We undertook a population-based cohort study to investigate suicide rates in recently released prisoners in England and Wales. Methods: We used the database of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness for England and Wales to identify all individuals who died by suicide or who received an open verdict at the coroner's inquest between 2000 and 2002. These records were linked to a Home Office register to identify all such deaths in people within 1 year of release from prison in England and Wales. We compared suicide rates per 100 000 person-years in these released prisoners with rates in the general population by using the indirectly age-standardised mortality ratio. Findings: We identified 382 suicides occurring in 244 988 individuals within 1 year of release from prison; a suicide rate of 156 per 100 000 person-years. 79 (21%) suicides occurred within the first 28 days after release. In all age groups, suicide rates were higher in recently released prisoners than in the general population. The overall age-standardised mortality ratio for recently released prisoners was 8·3 (95% CI 7·5-9·3) for men and 35·8 (25·4-50·2) for women. Interpretation: Recently released prisoners are at a much greater risk of suicide than the general population, especially in the first few weeks after release. The risk of suicide in recently released prisoners is approaching that seen in discharged psychiatric patients. A shared responsibility lies with the prison, probation, health, and social services to develop more collaborative practices in providing services for this high-risk group. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.