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Original Investigation
February 2017

Sex and Racial/Ethnic Differences in Positive Outcomes in Delinquent Youth After DetentionA 12-Year Longitudinal Study

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(2):123-132. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3260
Key Points

Questions  Do delinquent youth attain age-appropriate psychosocial outcomes in young adulthood after detention, and do outcomes vary by sex and race/ethnicity?

Findings  This 12-year longitudinal study of 1829 delinquent youth found that, 12 years after detention, only 21.9% of males and 54.7% of females had achieved more than half of the 8 positive psychosocial outcomes examined. Minority males, particularly African Americans, were the least likely to achieve age-appropriate milestones.

Meaning  To improve outcomes for youth after detention, pediatric health care professionals should recognize the importance of psychosocial health, partner with on-site psychosocial services in their practices, and facilitate access to services in the community.

Abstract

Importance  Longitudinal studies of delinquent youth have focused on criminal recidivism, not on psychosocial outcomes in adulthood. This omission is critical because after detention most youth return to the community, where they become the responsibility of pediatric health care professionals.

Objective  To investigate 8 positive outcomes among delinquent youth 5 and 12 years after detention, focusing on sex and racial/ethnic differences.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal US study of long-term outcomes of delinquent youth after detention, participants were interviewed in detention between November 20, 1995, and June 14, 1998, and reinterviewed up to 9 times during the 12-year study period, through May 12, 2011. Data analysis was conducted between November 18, 2013, and July 25, 2016.

Exposures  Juvenile detention.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Achievement of positive outcomes in 8 domains: educational attainment, residential independence, gainful activity, desistance from criminal activity, mental health, abstaining from substance abuse, interpersonal functioning, and parenting responsibility. Outcomes were assessed with widely used measures supplemented by correctional records.

Results  The study included 1829 youth at baseline (1172 males and 657 females; mean [SD] age, 14.9 [1.4] years). At the end of the study, 1520 (83.1%) of the original sample remained (944 males and 576 females; mean [SD] age, 27.6 [1.4] years). Twelve years after detention, females were more likely than males to have positive outcomes for gainful activity (odds ratio [OR], 2.53; 95% CI, 1.86-3.44), desistance from criminal activity (OR, 5.89; 95% CI, 4.38-7.92), residential independence (OR, 3.41; 95% CI, 2.57-4.52), parenting responsibility (OR, 18.65; 95% CI, 12.29-28.30), and mental health (OR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.13-1.92). Twelve years after detention, only 21.9% of males and 54.7% of females had achieved more than half of the outcomes. As youth aged, the number of positive outcomes increased only modestly (mean increase for males, 0.37; 95% CI, 0.13-0.62; for females, 0.29; 95% CI, 0.13-0.45). Among males, non-Hispanic white individuals were significantly more likely to achieve most positive outcomes compared with minorities, but less likely to abstain from substance abuse. For example, 12 years after detention, non-Hispanic white males had nearly 3 times the odds of educational attainment compared with African American (OR, 2.82; 95% CI, 1.77-4.50) and Hispanic males (OR, 2.91; 95% CI, 1.75-4.82), and 2 to 5 times the odds of gainful activity compared with African American (OR, 5.17; 95% CI, 3.16-8.45) and Hispanic males (OR, 2.58; 95% CI, 1.56-4.26). Latent class analysis shows that African American males fared the worst, with lives characterized by incarceration, criminal activity, and few positive outcomes.

Conclusions and Relevance  Our findings highlight racial/ethnic disparities among youth in achieving positive outcomes after detention. To improve outcomes, pediatric health care professionals should recognize the importance of psychosocial health, partner with on-site psychosocial services in their practices, and facilitate access to services in the community.

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