Delinquent teens more likely to meet violent deaths as adults

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Delinquent teens more likely to meet violent deaths as adults
Delinquent teens more likely to meet violent deaths as adults

Delinquent youth are at a significantly higher risk for violent death as adults, according to a study published in the June 16 online journal Pediatrics. The Northwestern University study reports that most of the deaths involved firearms and women were among the most vulnerable victims.

“Our findings are shocking,” lead author Linda Teplin, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release. “Death rates in our sample of delinquent youth, ages 15 to 19, are nearly twice those of troops in combat in wartime in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she added.

Teplin and her team used newly available data from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a study of 1,829 youth. The study group was made up of 1,172 males and 657 females, ages 10 to 18 years who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998.

Participants were randomly selected before their cases had been deposed and they had not yet been convicted of a crime. The researchers interviewed the study participants and then followed them using official death records up to 16 years after the initial interviews.

Study findings showed that of the original participants, 111 died. Among this group, 75 (68 percent) were victims of homicides, and of these, 68 (91 percent) were killed by firearms. Blacks were 4.5 times more likely to die from homicide than non-Hispanic whites.

In addition, the study found that delinquent women died violently at nearly five times the rate of those in the general population, while delinquent males met violent deaths at three times the general population rates. Violent death rates for Hispanic males and females were five times and nine times more than the general population rates, respectively.

Teplin and her colleagues identified three risk factors in adolescence as predictors of violent death up to the age of 34: alcohol use disorder, selling drugs and gang involvement. These factors are modifiable and “early prevention is key,” wrote the researchers.

Teplin told the L.A. Times that the study brings to light issues that have to do with the communities the young people come from and return to.

“It’s not just when they leave [detention], but why they get in,” she said. They live in poor neighborhoods, go to “really terrible schools, and they are not equipped to get a good job, and they end up falling into delinquent acts.”

Poor and minority children, said Teplin, don’t get services in their communities, get detained, and when released, find themselves in the same situation and “they end up in a revolving door.”

“Early violent death is a health disparity,” added Teplin. “Youth who get detained are disproportionately poor and disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. We must address early violent death the same as any other health disparity.”

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