Juvenile Mental Health Worse After Detention
October 2, 2012

Juvenile Mental Health Negatively Impacted By Detention

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Northwestern University recently discovered that over 45 percent of males and almost 30 percent of females who had been in juvenile detention had one or more psychiatric disorders following incarceration.

For young females and males who are incarcerated, the development of a psychiatric disorder is highly likely. Factors such as dysfunctional families, brain injuries, substance abuse and maltreatment all contribute to the psychiatric disorder of delinquent youth. What more, these disorders often continue to afflict them as they mature into adulthood.

The team of investigators set out to examine the differences in the disorders over a period of five years, specifically studying the effects of sex, race, and ethnicity on the participants mental health. The results will be published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatrist, a daughter publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"Although prevalence rates of most psychiatric disorders declined over time, a substantial proportion of delinquent youth continued to have disorders as they aged,” explained the study´s authors.

“For some youth, detention may coincide with a period of crisis that subsequently abates. Many youth, however, continue to struggle: five years after detention, when participants were ages 14 to 24 years, nearly half of males and nearly 30 percent of females had one or more psychiatric disorders with associated impairment."

The scientists looked at evidence gleaned from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study consisting of 1,829 youths between the ages of 10 and 18 who were based in a Chicago detention center. They believe that the study is the first longitudinal study to measure psychiatric disorders in young people following detention.

"Our study addresses a critical hole in the research,” remarked the study´s lead author Linda A. Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement.

Among the 657 females and 1,172 males, the abuse of substances like alcohol and drugs was the most common and long-lasting form of psychiatric disorder.

"These findings demonstrate the need for special programs — especially for substance use disorders — not only while these kids are in corrections but also when they return to the community," noted Teplin in a statement.

At the start of the study, the male participants had an approximately one-third higher chance of displaying signs of substance abuse compared to females. At the five-year mark, however, males were at a 2.5 times higher risk of developing the disorder compared to their female counterparts.

"People think these kids are locked up forever, but the average stay is only two weeks," continued Teplin in the statement. "Obviously, it's better to provide community services than to build correctional facilities. Otherwise, the lack of services perpetuates the revolving door between the community and corrections."

Furthermore, the researchers also found that Hispanic and non-Hispanic white participants tended to have a higher rate of substance abuse than African Americans. These results differ significantly from the trends found in a similar 2010 project which found that African American males were seven times more likely than white males to be incarcerated.

"Non-Hispanic whites had the highest rates of substance use disorders and dependence, followed by Hispanics, then African-Americans with the lowest rates," said Teplin. "This is exactly the opposite of the patterns of incarceration."

The findings also showed that females had a greater chance of developing significant depression over time. Disruptive behavioral disorders, however, were more common in males than females over the five-year study. At the three-year mark, males had a 1.82 greater chance of having disruptive behavior compared to females. And by the end of the study, males displayed a 2.95 higher chance of exhibiting disruptive behavior than their female counterparts.

The researchers believe that in light of the high rate of substance abuse, there are simply not enough programs available to assist those who need treatment. They suspect that about half of youths who are in juvenile facilities and three-quarters of youths in adult jails have a need that is not being addressed.

"We've done a great job developing special programs for delinquent girls," commented Teplin. "Now we need to focus on boys." Males comprise 85 percent of the youths in correctional facilities and 70 percent of juvenile arrests.

The research team also noted the possible role of socioeconomic factors in helping youths to avoid falling into substance abuse and addiction.

“Wealthier parents may be able to afford drug treatment for their kids. But poor kids may instead end up in the juvenile justice system. It's often socioeconomic disadvantage that lands these kids in detention,” said Teplin in the statement.