Is childhood criminal justice exposure associated with risk of poor adult mental health?

September 04, 2019

Bottom Line: A childhood history of both personal involvement in the juvenile justice system and parental incarceration was associated with a greater likelihood of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder in young adulthood compared to peers without those experiences in this observational study. And, having either one of those experiences with the criminal justice system as a child was associated with risk of adverse mental health outcomes. This analysis of a nationally representative survey included 12,379 participants (141 reported experiencing both parental incarceration and juvenile justice involvement) who were in grades 7 to 12 in 1994-1995 and who were 24 to 32 years old at follow-up in 2008. The study didn't account for the nature of offenses contributing to parental incarceration or involvement in the juvenile justice system or the duration of childhood exposure to the criminal justice system. The focus also was on incarceration of biological parents, which doesn't account for children who experienced the incarceration of nonbiological caregivers. Study authors suggest that because childhood exposure to the criminal justice system appears to put people at risk for poor mental health outcomes later, policies to mitigate that impact could help improve their mental well-being as adults.

Authors: Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., M.Sc., of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, and coauthors

(doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10465)

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.
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Media advisory: To contact corresponding author Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., M.Sc., email Julie Pesch at JPesch@luriechildrens.org. The full study is linked to this news release.

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