To examine whether adverse parental legal system involvement (incarceration, arrest) was associated with suicide risk, accounting for other adverse childhood experiences, and whether there was a moderating relationship between positive childhood experiences (PCEs) and parental legal system involvement in suicide risk.


This cross-sectional study used 2-year follow-up data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study when children were age 11 to 12 years. Outcomes were lifetime suicidal ideation, attempts, and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). Exposures were parent incarceration or arrest. We used generalized linear models to estimate the relative risk of suicide outcomes from adverse parent legal involvement and whether there was an interaction between parent legal system involvement and PCE count, controlling for adverse childhood experiences and demographic factors.


Among our sample (n = 10 532;), 687 children (6.5%) reported parent incarceration and 1265 (12.0%) reported parent arrest. Suicidal ideation was the most frequent risk outcome (n = 490; 4.7%). Children whose parents had been incarcerated had a relative risk of suicidal ideation of 1.74 (95% CI: 1.32–2.31). Children whose parents had been arrested had a relative risk of suicidal ideation of 1.89 (95% CI: 1.53–2.37) and a relative risk of suicide attempt of 2.69 (95% CI: 1.7–4.25). Parental incarceration/arrest were not associated with NSSI. PCEs were associated with reduced relative risk of suicidal ideation and NSSI, though there was no significant interaction between PCEs and adverse parent legal system involvement exposures.


Parental legal system involvement may negatively affect child mental health. Strengthening PCEs in childhood may mitigate suicide-related risks.

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