Research News

Tracking Psychiatric Disorders in Youth After Detention

IPR associate Linda Teplin studies whether psychiatric disorders persist and what can be done

Youth at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) watch a performance. IPR associate Linda Teplin studied persistence of psychiatric disorders in JTDC youth.

Almost two-thirds of males and three-quarters of females who enter juvenile detention do so with psychiatric disorders such as depression and drug and alcohol use disorders. But what happens when they are released?

In an article published in JAMA Psychiatry, behavioral scientist and IPR associate Linda Teplin, Northwestern’s Karen Abram—the study’s lead author—and their colleagues are the first to empirically investigate these disorders in youth after detention.  

In their study, the Northwestern Juvenile Project, they randomly sampled 1,829 youth who entered Chicago’s Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center between 1995 and 1998.  It is the “only large-scale longitudinal study of mental health needs and outcomes in the juvenile justice system,” Teplin said.

Linda Teplin

The researchers determined how many disorders youth had while detained and then five years after their release. They found that disorders were likely to persist over time.  They also found that youths who had multiple disorders while in detention were the most likely to have a disorder at follow-up, according to Teplin.

Although girls were more likely to have multiple disorders when first studied, boys did worse over time.  Five years after detention, girls were more likely than boys to have multiple disorders—likely because “compared to boys, more girls desist in their delinquent behaviors as they age,” Teplin said.

“Although the juvenile justice system has done a good job of providing gender-specific services for girls, our findings show we need to now focus on boys,” Teplin said. “Let’s remember that 85 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system are male, with racial/ethnic minorities disproportionately represented.”

These results point to the need for policy interventions, she added, calling for systematic screenings upon their entry into detention and collaboration with community agencies when they return home.   

She and her colleagues also highlight the need to reform a detention system warped by poverty—not just in Chicago, where the study took place, but also nationwide. 

“Addressing disparities must be a priority,” Teplin said. “Wealthy kids who have a mental health problem are more likely to receive services. But when poor kids take drugs, for example, to self-medicate for depression, they get arrested, detained, and are launched on their criminal career.”

She added, “Plus, poor kids are disproportionately arrested overall. They live in more densely populated neighborhoods, where infractions are more likely to be noticed, reported, and culminate in arrest.”   

Linda Teplin is Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and an IPR associate.

Photo credit: WBEZ/Bill Healy