Detained Youths More Likely to Die Violent Deaths as Adults

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Erik Unger/The Chicago Bureau


Linda Teplin of Northwestern University: “We’re talking about stunning differences between our sample and the general population.”

Erik Unger / The Chicago Bureau

Those arrested and detained as youths were much more likely to die violent deaths as adults than those who were not, says a new study.

The study, published in the June 16 issue of the journal “Pediatrics,” found that females who had been arrested and detained as youths died violent deaths as adults at nearly five times the rate of the general population, while males arrested and detained as youths died violent deaths at three times the rate of the general population.

“The risk of death is just phenomenally higher in this population than in the general population,” the study’s lead author, Linda Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told JJIE. “We’re talking about stunning differences between our sample and the general population.”

Teplin said the study is the first large-scale research examining adult death rates among those who had been arrested and detained as youths but not adjudicated delinquent. (Previous research has looked at adult death rates among youths who had been adjudicated delinquent and incarcerated for serious offenses, Teplin said.)

“Our study is much broader,” she said, “so it’s highly relevant for juvenile justice policy.”

The new research is also the first large-scale study to scrutinize death rates among females who had been arrested and detained as youths, Teplin said.

Teplin and her fellow researchers apply the term “delinquents” loosely to refer to the youths arrested and detained but not adjudicated.

She said the findings dispel stereotypes.

“We have an image of delinquent youth as being predators and, in fact, they’re greatly vulnerable to early violent death,” Teplin said.

She also said the findings about the rates of violent deaths among females surprised her.

The study found violent death up to age 34 could be predicted by three risk factors in adolescence: alcoholism, selling drugs and gang involvement.

The study relied on newly available data from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of 1,829 youth (1,172 males and 657 females) who were arrested and detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998, when the youths were 10 to 18 years old. Researchers interviewed study participants and followed up with them using official death records up to 16 years after the initial interviews.

Teplin said researchers focused on Chicago “because it’s a typical big city with typical big-city problems.”

Of the original participants, 111 had died by 2011. Among those who died, 75 were victims of homicide, of whom 68 (91 percent) were killed with firearms. African-Americans were 4 and a half times more likely to die from homicides than whites, the study found.

Teplin noted many of the people in the study lived in poor neighborhoods with bad schools and said families often lacked the resources to obtain help for their children.

“And then once they’re detained, they’re on a downward spiral ending with a greatly increased risk of early violent death,” she said.

“We must address early violent deaths among delinquent youth as a health disparity the same as any other health disparity. … We worry about diabetes being a health disparity, asthma being a health disparity. Early violent death is also a health disparity.”

The study recommended early-childhood interventions to help prevent arrest and detention of youth.

But while the juvenile justice system provides interventions in detention centers and through court-mandated programs, the study said, the demand for such services dwarfs supply.

Teplin said the study underscores the need to improve schools, especially those attended by inner-city youths.

Teplin said pre- and post-detention programs for children would reduce their chances of falling into the “juvenile justice net.”

She also said many youths who get arrested have untreated mental disorders and some of them might abuse drugs to self-medicate and then sell drugs to pay for them.

The study received funding from sources including the National Institute on Drug Abuse; the National Institute of Mental Health; the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Financial supporters of The JJIE may be quoted or mentioned in our stories. They may also be the subjects of our stories.

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