Post by Kurt V. Jose, MSc Candidate
On 15th May, Professor Linda A. Teplin of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine presented at the All Souls Criminology Seminar Series. Her presentation, titled “Death and Dire Outcomes of Delinquent Youth: New Findings from the Northwestern Juvenile Project,”examined the consequences of incarceration and its effect upon youth between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. The Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP) is the first large-scale longitudinal study of mental health needs and outcomes of juvenile detainees. The research consisted of a diverse sample of 1,829 youths who were arrested between 1995 and 1998 in Cook County, Illinois.
The study, which is currently ongoing, is designed to provide comprehensive data in order to create and implement innovative juvenile justice policy. Recidivism and studies on anti-social behavior only provide snapshots, Professor Teplin noted, by examining psychiatric disorders it allows researchers and policymakers alike to see the underlying problems that plague delinquent youths who are constantly in and out of the juvenile justice system. In 2009, the US courts with juvenile jurisdiction handled more than 1.5 million delinquency cases. As of 2011, over 61,000 juveniles are in detention. According to Professor Teplin, delinquent youths are not accounted for in general population studies, due to lack of follow-up or incarceration. Therefore, juveniles with such disorders have barriers to receiving the adequate help, especially when they are released and reintegrated into the community.
The objective of NJP is therefore to examine the psychiatric disorders, risky behaviors, and long-term outcomes in adulthood. NJP researchers conducted structured psychiatric interviews, and throughout the duration of the research, they tracked and re-interviewed participants upon entry and departure from the juvenile justice system. It benefitted the study because it increased the follow-up rate and helped record detailed information and insight on participants’ experiences.
The baseline interviews revealed that non-Hispanic Whites tend to have more substance abuse disorders compared to African Americans. The findings indicated that the participants also have comorbid psychiatric disorders. As Teplin said, “Comorbid is almost the rule and not the exception,”thus making it difficult to have successful treatment. Comorbid psychiatric disorders means that the participants are diagnosed with one or more disorders, such as alcohol and mental disorders. NJP’s evidence suggests that psychiatric disorders often co-occur with physical disorders in children. Thus, comorbidity worsens the prognosis of a physical illness. As a result, the health care costs are much higher for those with both mental and physical disorders. Professor Teplin stressed the continuing issue of youths who are released and re-incarcerated. They lack the adequate resources and assistance to cure their disorders and illnesses. Upon release, they cannot even afford medication to control their behavioral disorders.
By 1998, in a mere 5 years, 93% of African American males in the study were re-incarcerated three or more times. Desistance was seen as not having any violent crime to account for the high rates of re-incarceration. Only 9% managed to succeed. The females had a higher success rate than the males and the non-Hispanic rates were able to lower rates of substance abuse compared to African Americans. 122 participants died over the course of the research mainly from homicide. The rate of homicide of males in the study was three times higher than the general population in Chicago. Alcohol use disorder and gang membership are predicators for early violent death.
Professor Teplin concluded that recent studies have not examined how patterns of incarceration affect youth and their outcomes upon leaving juvenile detention centers. By analyzing psychiatric disorders, it allows scholars and policymakers alike to examine how to create comprehensive solutions and mitigate the issues these youths face. She concluded her presentation saying that reformed health care in the United States plays a pivotal role in how the delinquent youth will be able to access medication and receive proper treatment. The goal of NJP research is to lower the barriers to accessing mental health services and to ensure the consistency of treatment for these individuals. However, she posed the question: Will the community be ready to handle these individuals who have comorbid psychiatric disorders? How do we disentangle such issues? Is the community health system ready to handle such participants? Ongoing research and public health policies will be able to determine how these issues can be mitigated.