Brushes With the Law Raise Suicide Risk, Study Shows

MONDAY Feb. 7, 2011 -- People who have dealings with the criminal justice system are at increased risk for suicide, even if they have never been found guilty or spent time in prison, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at 18,063 men and 9,156 women in Denmark who died of suicide between 1981 and 2006 and compared them to a control group of 524,899 people in the general population.

The study found that 34.8 percent of men who committed suicide had a criminal justice history, compared with 24.6 percent of men in the control group. Among women, 12.8 percent of those who committed suicide had exposure to the justice system, compared with 5.1 percent of those in the control group.

Suicide risk was highest among people who had spent time in prison, and suicide was most strongly associated with sentencing to psychiatric treatment and with conditional withdrawal of charges (similar to suspended sentences).

The study appears in the Feb. 7 online issue and the June print issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

It also found that suicide risk was especially high among people with a criminal history who were younger, who had been charged for violent offenses, and who had recent or repeated contact with the criminal justice system.

"We believe that our findings of rising suicide risk with increasing recency and frequency of contact point toward a strong independent effect of criminal justice history," wrote Roger T. Webb, of the University of Manchester in England, and colleagues in a news release from the puiblisher. "Thus, exposure to the criminal justice system in itself may contribute to elevating a person's suicide risk, rather than simply reflecting the traits and characteristics of people who come into contact with the system."

The findings indicate the need for more far-reaching suicide prevention strategies, they concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about suicide prevention.

Posted: February 2011


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