Suicide Attempts and Involvement with the Criminal Justice System

April 26, 2013

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

The authors of a study on suicide attempts and recent involvement with the criminal justice system suggest that the period following an arrest and through arraignment, adjudication, and re-entry to the community represents an important opportunity for the assessment and treatment of suicide risk. Their research revealed that people involved with the justice system but not incarcerated (i.e. returned to live in the community) are much more likely to report a suicide attempt during the past year than people who have not been arrested.

The authors report that “Despite accounting for just 1.1 percent of the U.S. adult population, those with multiple arrests accounted for nearly 10 percent of all suicide attempts” reported in the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Although less than 1 percent of respondents without any recent arrest reported an attempt in the past year, 1.5 percent of those who had been arrested – and 4.5 percent of those who had been arrested on multiple occasions or on multiple charges – reported attempting suicide.

The data analysis also revealed that 17.4 percent of those who had attempted suicide had been arrested in the past year, compared to 3.5 percent of those who had not been arrested. The risk was higher for those with multiple arrests or multiple charges, although people with a single arrest or charge were also significantly more at risk of attempting suicide than adults who had not been arrested. The results did not differ between men or women or among racial and ethnic groups.

The authors speculated that people arrested for violent crimes may be more at risk for suicide than those arrested for property or drug offenses, but suggested that more research on the relationship between type of crime and suicide risk is needed. The data analysis also concluded that people reporting suicide attempts were younger than the general population and more likely to report lower income, lower levels of education, and a lack of insurance coverage, and were more likely to have recently used alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and psychotropic medications.

This research summary is based on information in: Cook, T. B. 2013, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology Volume 48, Issue 5, pp 767-774.