Year: 2022 Source: BMC Psychiatry. (2022). 22, 163. SIEC No: 20220127

Adults with behavioral health disorders in criminal-legal systems are at heightened risk of suicide relative to the general population. Despite documented racial disparities in criminal processing and behavioral health treatment, few studies have examined racial differences in suicide risk in this already high-risk population. This study examined 1) the correlates of suicide risk in this population overall and by race and 2) the moderating role of race in these associations.

We investigated correlates of clinician-rated suicide risk at baseline in a statewide sample of 2,827 Black and 14,022 White adults with criminal-legal involvement who engaged in community-based behavioral health treatment. Regression-based approaches were used to model suicide risk and test for evidence of interaction effects.

Findings showed the strongest correlates of suicide risk were greater behavioral health needs, evidence of self-harm, and a primary mental health diagnosis or co-occurring diagnosis. In race-specific analyses, correlates of suicide risk were mostly similar for both Black and White clients, with a couple exceptions. Interaction terms testing between-group effects on correlates of suicide risk were non-significant.

Adults with behavioral health disorders in criminal-legal systems experience similar risk factors for suicide as the general population. Similar to prior research, we found that Black adults, in particular, are at lower risk for suicide overall. Contrary to expectations, we found similarities in correlates of suicide risk across race in our sample of felony-level adults with behavioral health disorders in the criminal-legal system. Prior research shows that behavioral health professionals should be cognizant of cultural factors when developing a comprehensive approach to suicide care and treatment. Our findings show correlates of suicide risk are largely stable in Black and White adults involved in criminal-legal systems, suggesting culturally responsive treatment for suicide risk should target shared risk factors.