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January | February 2013

OJJDP Launches Publication Series on Mental Health Needs and Outcomes of Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

A photo of a young man."Beyond Detention," a new OJJDP publication series, details the findings of the Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP), the first large-scale, longitudinal study of drug, alcohol, and psychiatric disorders in a diverse sample of juvenile detainees. NJP is funded by OJJDP and a consortium of eight other federal agencies and five private foundations.

This study addresses a key omission in the delinquency literature. Many studies examine the connection between risk factors and the onset of delinquency. Far fewer investigations follow youth after they are arrested and detained. Topics covered in the publication series include the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among juvenile detainees, posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma within this population, functional impairment after detention (at work, at school, at home, or in the community), psychiatric disorders in youth processed in juvenile or adult court, barriers to mental health services, violent death among delinquent youth, and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in youth after detention.

NJP studies a randomly selected sample of 1,829 youth who were arrested and detained in Cook County, IL, between 1995 and 1998. Baseline interviews began in November 1995; followup interviews began in November 1998 and are ongoing. The first bulletin in the series, The Northwestern Juvenile Project: Overview, discusses NJP's approach and goals, sampling and interview methods, diagnostic measures, and selected findings.

The study revealed that psychiatric disorders among detained youth are prevalent: 66 percent of males and 74 percent of females met the criteria for at least one disorder at the baseline interview in detention. The researchers found that the mental health needs of these youth are largely untreated. Among detainees with major psychiatric disorders and functional impairment, only 15 percent had been treated in the detention center before release. Only 8 percent received treatment in the community by the time of case disposition or 6 months after detention.

Three years after the baseline interview, 17 percent of detained youth had developed antisocial personality disorder (APD). Significantly more males than females developed APD. The overall mortality rate of juvenile detainees an average of 7 years after they were detained was more than four times higher than the rate in the general population. The mortality rate of female detainees was nearly eight times the rate in the general population. Ninety-six percent of deaths were homicides or legal interventions; among homicides, 93 percent resulted from gunshot wounds.


To view, download, or order a printed copy of The Northwestern Juvenile Project: Overview, visit the New Publications page. For more information about the Northwestern Juvenile Project, visit the Web site of Northwestern University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.