New Research Examines Long Term Links Between Juvenile Detention and Psychiatric Disorders

A new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that, five years after being released from one Illinois juvenile detention center, more than 45 percent of male former detainees, and almost 30 percent of female former detainees, had been diagnosed with at least one psychiatric disorder associated with mental impairment.

The study, conducted by the Northwestern Project with support from the National Institution on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, examined more than 1,800 detainees, ranging in ages from 10 to 18, at Chicago’s Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. According to researchers, the report is the first longitudinal study to fully track psychiatric disorders in juveniles following release from detention.

Researchers said that half of the center’s former male detainees had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder not associated with impairment, while more than 40 percent of female ex-detainees has been diagnosed with at least one or more disorders not commonly associated with mental impairment. The most common disorders noted were substance abuse issues, with researchers saying the male ex-detainees were two to three times likelier to develop problems with alcohol and illicit drugs than female ex-detainees. Formerly detained females, however, demonstrated a greater risk of developing major depression over the five-year time period, researchers said.

The study indicates that non-Hispanic whites are much more likely to develop substance use disorders than Hispanic or African-American ex-detainees, while researchers noted a much more significant drop in substance abuse numbers among female ex-detainees as they aged than was observed for male ex-detainees.

“Although prevalence rates dropped over time, some disorders were three times more prevalent than in the general population,” lead study author Linda Teplin said in a recent Northwestern University media release.

“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,” Teplin said.