Few studies have assessed the risk of suicide and suicidal behavior among the community-residing population with recent criminal justice involvement despite evidence of high rates of suicide in jails and prisons. This study assessed the association between recent arrest history and a suicide attempt in the previous year including multiple arrests and specific offense categories using a national representative sample of adults.
Data were derived from 2 years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008 and 2010), a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of non-institutionalized US adults. Suicide attempts in the previous year based on self-report were assessed in relation to recent arrest history while accounting for socio-demographic factors, mental and physical health status and substance use.
Suicide attempts in the previous year are relatively common among those with recent arrests (2.3 %) compared to the general US population (0.4 %), with much higher prevalence among those with multiple recent arrests or charges (4.5 %). The prevalence of recent suicide attempts among those with multiple recent arrests was highest among adults aged 25–34 (5.7 %), with similar risks between men and women, and across racial and ethnic subgroups. There was no association between arrests prior to the most recent year and recent suicide attempts.
Suicide attempts are common among the non-institutionalized population of US adults with recent criminal justice involvement. Suicide prevention efforts in the criminal justice system should extend to clients who remain in the community both during and immediately following periods of court-processing. Future research is needed to better identify case and client characteristics indicating the highest suicide risk.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/suicide/suicidal_thoughts.html. Accessed 24 May 2012
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC grand rounds: prescription drug overdoses—a US. epidemic. MMWR 61(01): 10–13
Rabe K (2012) Prison structure, inmate mortality and suicide risk in Europe. Int J Law Psychiatry 35(3):222–230
Fazel S, Grann M, Kling B, Hawton K. Prison suicide in 12 countries: an ecological study of 861 suicides during 2003–2007. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 46 (3):191–195
Webb RT, Qin P, Stevens H, Mortensen PB, Appleby L, Shaw J (2011) National study of suicide in all people with a criminal justice history. Arch Gen Psychiatry 68(6):591–599
Cook TB, Davis MS (2012) Assessing legal strains and risk of suicide using archived court data. Suicide Life Threat Behav. doi:10.1111/j.1943-278X.2012.00107.x
Larney S, Topp L, Indig D, O’Driscoll C, Greenberg D (2012) A cross-sectional survey of prevalence and correlates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among prisoners in New South Wales. Australia. BMC Public Health 12:14
Blauuw E, Kerkhof AJ, Hayes LM (2005) Demographic, criminal, and psychiatric factors related to inmate suicide. Suicide Life Threat Behav 35(1):63–75
US. department of justice (2005). Suicide and homicide in state prisons and local jails. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/shsplj.pdf. Accessed 15 Jan 2012
Felthous AR (2011) Suicide behind bars: trends, inconsistencies and practical implications. J Forensic Sci 56(6):1541–1555
Gray D, Achilles J, Keller T, Tate D, Haggard L, Rolfs R, Cazier C, Workman J, McMahon WM (2002) Utah youth suicide study, phase I: government agency contact before death. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 41(4):427–434
Weis MA, Bradberry C, Carter LP, Ferguson J, Kozareva D (2006) An exploration of human services system contacts prior to suicide in South Carolina: an expansion of the South Carolina Violent Death Reporting System. Inj Prev 12:(Suppl 2)15–21
Haukka J, Suominen K, Partonen T, Lönnqvist J (2008) Determinants and outcomes of serious attempted suicide: a nationwide study in Finland, 1996–2003. Am J Epidemiol 167(10):1155–1163
Jenkins GR, Hale R, Papanastassiou M, Crawford M, Tryer P (2002) Suicide rate 22 years after parasuicide: cohort study. BMJ 325(7373):1155
Beuatrais AL (2001) Suicide and serious suicide attempts: two populations or one? Psychol Med 31(5):837–845
Crosby AE, Han B, Ortega LA, Parks SE, Gfroerer J, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), (2011) Suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adults aged ≥ 18 years–United States, 2008–2009. MMWR Surveill Summ 60(13):1–22
Pearce N (2004) Effect measures in prevalence studies. Environ Health Perspect 112(10):1047–1050
Doshi A, Boudreaux ED, Wang N, Pelletier AJ, Camargo CA (2005) National study of emergency department visits for attempted suicide and self-inflicted injury, 1997–2001. Ann Emerg Med 46(4):369–375
Goss JR, Peterson K, Smith LW, Kalb K, Brode BB (2002) Characteristics of suicide attempts in a large urban jail system with an established suicide prevention program. Psychatr Serv 53(5):574–579
Camilleri P, McArthur M (2008) Suicidal behaviour in prisons: learning from Australian and international experiences. Int J Law Psychiatry 31(4):297–307
Kenning C, Cooper J, Short V, Shaw J, Abel K, Chew-Graham C (2010) Prison staff and women prisoner’s views on self-harm; their implications for service delivery and development: a qualitative study. Crim Behav Ment Health 20(4):274–284
Giblin Y, Kelly A, Kelly E, Kennedy HG, Mohan D (2012) Reducing the use of seclusion for mental disorder in prison: implementing a high support unit in a prison using participant action research. Int J Ment Health Syst 6(1):2
Daniel A (2006) Preventing suicide in prison: a collaborative responsibility of administrative, custodial, and clinical staff. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 34(2):165–175
Danto BL (1997) Suicide litigation as an agent of change in jail and prison: an initial report. Behav Sci Law 15(4):415–425
Hatcher SS (2009) Deliberate indifference in jail suicide litigation: a fatal judicial loophole. Soc Work Public Health 24(5):401–413
Hakansson A, Bradvik L, Schlyter F, Berglund M (2010) Factors associated with the history of attempted suicide. Crisis 31(1):12–21
Perroud N, Baud P, Mouthon D, Courtet P, Malafosse A (2011) Impulsivity, aggression and suicidal behavior in unipolar and bipolar disorders. J Affect Disord 134(1–3):112–118
Butler T et al (2010) Reducing impulsivity in repeat violent offenders: an open label trial of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 44(12):1137–1143
Henning K, Jones A, Holdford R (2003) Treatment needs of women arrested for domestic violence: a comparison with male offenders. J Interpers Violence 18(8):839–856
Morgan RD, Flora DB, Kroner DG, Mills JF, Varghese F, Steffan JS (2012) Treating offenders with mental illness: a research synthesis. Law Hum Behav 36(1):37–50
Stack S, Wasserman I (2007) Economic strain and suicide risk: a qualitative analysis. Suicide Life Threat Behav 37(1):103–112
Kimonis ER, Skeem JL, Edens JF, Douglas KS, Lilienfeld SO, Poythress NG (2010) Suicidal and criminal behavior among female offenders: the role of abuse and psychopathology. J Pers Disord 24(5):581–609
This study was supported by a research grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Conflict of interest
The author has no conflicts of interest to report.
This study of secondary data was reviewed and approved by the institutional review board of Oberlin College. The original data collection for the NSDUH was conducted by Research Triangle Institute (RTI), sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and was approved by the IRB of RTI.
About this article
Cite this article
Cook, T.B. Recent criminal offending and suicide attempts: a national sample. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 48, 767–774 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-012-0567-9
- Suicide attempts
- Criminal justice
- Suicide prevention
- Multiple criminal offending
- Psychiatric epidemiology