Juvenile Detention Tied to Psychiatric Disorder in Adult life

About 70% of incarcerated children have at least one psychiatric disorder.About 70% of incarcerated children have at least one psychiatric disorder.

People incarcerated as juveniles may have worse physical and mental health as adults than youths who did not spend time in detention centers or correctional facilities, says a new study.

“A lot of people think there are potentially harmful effects of being in the justice system, but the long-term effects really haven’t been quantified,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The magnitude of the increased health risks was tied to the time people spent incarcerated, researchers found.

About 1.3 million children under 18 years are arrested each year, write the researchers in the journal Pediatrics. Of those, 46% require some type of immediate medical attention. Additionally 70% of incarcerated children have at least one psychiatric disorder.

For the study, researchers’ analyzed data collected from 14,344 participants in the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and aimed to see if their duration of incarceration was linked to general health, functional limitations, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts as adults, Reuters Health reported.

Overall, 14% reported being incarcerated as children. About half were incarcerated for less than a month, one-third for one to 12 months and 15%, for more than a year.

Compared to participants who were never incarcerated, those who were in the juvenile justice system for less than a month were 41% more likely to have symptoms of depression, and one to 12 months was tied to a 48% increased risk of worse general health as adults.

Those in the system for more than a year were also nearly three times more likely to have functional limitation, over four times more likely to have symptoms of depression and over two times more likely to have suicidal thoughts as adults.

A second study published in the same journal found factors that put people at risk for HIV and AIDS were more common among adults who spent time in the juvenile justice system than the general population.

“Like most things in life, the experiences they have as a young person seem to carry over into their adult years,” said Ralph DiClemente, of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.

DiClemente, who co-authored an editorial accompanying the new studies, said juvenile detention can be very traumatic even though children are typically not incarcerated for years at a time.

For example, children may not have a lot of worldly experiences and may have never left their communities, but they’re being put into a facility with a lot of other people.

“They’re fearful and traumatized from being away.”

Instead of incarceration, DiClemente said one possible alternative is diversion programs like community service or treatment. Also, introducing programs to promote healthy behaviors and decrease risk are important.

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