“We could not have anticipated the high mortality rate of our participants”


According to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gun-related deaths are at an all-time high, rising 35% in the first year of the pandemic. North West researcher Linda Teplin, who has studied the juvenile justice population for more than 25 years, understands that young people in low-income neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable.

Teplin is the Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and principal investigator of the groundbreaking Northwestern Juvenile Project. Major research collaborators include Feinberg faculty Leah J. Welty and Karen M. Abram.

From detention centers and prisons to Chicago neighborhoods, Teplin’s research team conducted approximately 18,000 interviews with a cohort of 1,829 formerly incarcerated youths, sampled in the late 1990s, to track their health. mental health and their results in life.

Study researchers found that the likelihood of firearm injury or death was extremely high for study participants. Graduate student Nanzi Zheng, part of the research team, found that 12 years after the start of the study, 15% of all study participants had been injured or died from violence by firearm ; and 16 years later, 23% had been injured or died as a result of gun violence. Among black and Hispanic/Latin men, 27% were injured or died from gun violence 16 years after the start of the study.

The CDC currently funds several projects aimed at combating the epidemic of gun violence, including a project to distribute free post office boxes, which Teplin has long advocated.

Teplin’s research highlights the importance of early crime intervention strategies, including access to mental health services to circumvent juvenile detention and the downward spiral that follows.

On average, 37,000 to 38,000 young people reside in juvenile detention. Among poor inner-city black men, one in four are arrested one or more times before they turn 18, making it an almost normative experience that is too often the beginning of a disastrous outcome.

“We think we know a lot about children in the juvenile justice system,” Teplin said at the 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting earlier this year. “But when you look closely at previous studies, you mostly focus on recidivism. So we had little information about mental health needs and long-term outcomes.

The Northwestern Juvenile Project was created to fill the gap in research on the mental health needs and outcomes of young people after entering the juvenile justice system.

Teplin hosted an AAAS panel titled “How Has Crime Studies Impacted Criminal Justice Policy and Racial Inequality?” during which Teplin discussed how findings from the Northwestern Juvenile Project have guided the development of new policies.

Among the impacts of the study are new policies to deal with young people in the juvenile justice system who have psychiatric disorders.

“We found that two-thirds of the boys and nearly three-quarters of the girls had psychiatric disorders when they came into custody,” Teplin said.

“Our findings have spurred the development of assessments that detention centers now use to screen for psychiatric disorders. Our findings have also guided the development of gender-specific interventions because girls often have different issues than boys.”

Data from the study also revealed that among young people with the most severe psychiatric conditions, only one in six received mental health treatment within six months of being released from custody.

“This discovery has prompted detention centers nationwide to partner with community organizations to ensure these young people are connected to services when they return home,” Teplin said.

While substance use disorders were common in the study sample, researchers found that alcohol and marijuana were the most commonly used drugs, not hard drugs like heroin. or cocaine.

“Contrary to assumptions and framing of the ‘War on Drugs,’ we found that African American males had a much lower rate of substance use disorders compared to white males,” Teplin said.

Other key findings with policy implications are the higher rate of detention of youth from low-income neighborhoods, and the vulnerability and potential for significantly greater injury and death of participants from gun violence as they age.

“We could not have predicted the high mortality rate of our participants. Remember that our sample was 10-18 years old to begin with. To date, 13% of our participants have died, nearly half of them due to gun violence,” Teplin said.

According to Teplin, incarceration should be considered the last resort. The study found that this is not the case for young people from low-income neighborhoods.

“When children from more affluent families get into trouble – for example, they sell drugs at school – the school calls the parents and they avoid the juvenile justice system. When children from poorer families have trouble, schools call the police and that kid is on a one-way street through the juvenile justice system and beyond,” Teplin said.


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