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Life After Juvenile Detention Isn't Easy, Especially for Minorities

Only 1 in 5 males was working or in school full-time 12 years later, study reveals

teen boys

MONDAY, Dec. 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many people have difficulty getting their lives back on track after being released from juvenile detention, especially those from racial and ethnic minorities, a new study shows.

Delinquent youth are at high risk for problems in adulthood. Some of the reasons why include a background of significant trauma and loss, limited social support or adult guidance, and limited academic success, according to study author Karen Abram. She is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The study included more than 1,800 people who had been in juvenile detention. The researchers checked in on them five and 12 years later. The investigators looked for educational achievement, independent living, no criminal activity, no substance abuse, parenting responsibility, relationships and gainful activity.

Twelve years after detention, only half of the participants had a high school degree or equivalent. Just one-fifth of males and one-third of females were working full time or in school, the study found.

Black and Hispanic males had worse outcomes than white males. Males had worse outcomes than females, the study revealed.

"Involvement in the juvenile justice system can lead to a downward spiral that is difficult to reverse," Abram said in a university news release.

One area of hope for minorities: black and Hispanic young people were more likely to abstain from drug abuse than whites were, the findings showed.

Study senior author Linda Teplin said many middle- and upper-class youngsters who get in trouble don't suffer the same consequences as poor kids. Teplin is director of the Health Disparities and Public Policy Program at Northwestern.

"For example, wealthier families are more likely to be able to afford treatment if their kids use drugs. So their children might never be arrested and incarcerated," she said.

The findings suggest that for delinquent youth to succeed, they must receive help not only to give up crime, but to be given the opportunity for social stability and employment.

"Our findings highlight the need to address racial and ethnic disparities, because who gets arrested and detained? It's poor kids," Teplin said. "And disproportionately, racial and ethnic minorities."

The study was published online Dec. 19 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

More information

The RAND Corp. has more on juvenile delinquency.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Dec. 19, 2016
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