Psychiatric Problems in Childhood Predict Adult Arrests

Association persists regardless of whether an individual's record includes juvenile crimes

FRIDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Large percentages of those who are arrested in adulthood have histories of childhood psychiatric disorders, researchers report in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

William E. Copeland, Ph.D., of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and colleagues followed 1,420 children from 11 predominantly rural North Carolina counties who were participants in the Great Smokey Mountains Study. Subjects were aged 9, 11, and 13 at intake. Psychiatric disorders were assessed using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment. Children and their primary caretaker were interviewed annually through age 16. Subjects' arrest records between the ages of 16 and 21 were ascertained through court records.

Of those in the sample who were arrested as young adults (31 percent), 51.4 percent of the males and 43.6 percent of the females had histories of psychiatric problems as children. This relationship maintained across all levels of criminal charges (for minor, moderate and severe/violent crimes) and also when childhood diagnosis of conduct disorder was excluded. Comorbid diagnosis including both emotional and behavioral disorders in childhood was predictive of arrest for violent crime.

"The mental health and criminal justice systems would both benefit from improved identification and treatment of children with psychiatric disorders," the authors conclude.

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