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Recent criminal offending and suicide attempts: a national sample



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.

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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.

Ethical approval

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.

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Correspondence to Thomas Bradley Cook.

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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

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  • Suicide attempts
  • Criminal justice
  • Suicide prevention
  • Multiple criminal offending
  • Psychiatric epidemiology