Troubled youths struggle after time in detention center

Feb 17, 2009

The kids who pass through juvenile detention facilities are among the most troubled youths in the community. How do they fare a few years after this significant brush with the legal system?

Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine interviewed youths ages 13 to 22 who had been detained in Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center to see how they were doing three years later. They found that more than 90 percent were struggling in their lives and more than 20 percent were severely impaired in their ability to function. The severely impaired group had been expelled from school, broken the law and were addicted to drugs.

"This study highlights that we have failed to provide effective rehabilitation for these kids. We need to intervene early," said Karen M. Abram, lead author and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School. "There is a dearth of services for these kids. They need help in multiple areas over a sustained period of time."

Abram suggests that interventions should include "wraparound" services in which an interdisciplinary team of professionals develop a treatment plan and service agencies work together to provide appropriate care. She said these youths need treatment for psychiatric disorders - especially addictions-- as well educational and vocational training and social skills.

"These kids need alternatives to their criminal lifestyle," said Abram, who also is associate director of the Psycho-Legal Studies Program at Feinberg. "We need to provide effective services. If we don't, there are ongoing costs, both to these kids and to society."

The study was published on-line in the Journal of Adolescent Health and will appear in the print edition in the spring.

The study, which sampled 1,653 males and females, is part of the Northwestern Juvenile Project, an ongoing longitudinal study of health needs and outcomes of youth in the juvenile justice system.

Source: Northwestern University

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Damon_Hastings
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2009
I don't see any control group in this study, which makes a quantitative evaluation of the center's effectiveness impossible. This study measures how many kids failed after leaving the center, but says nothing about how many would have still failed even with a better center, or how many fail with no center at all. How can we know whether this center is doing a good job? Is it possible that even the best center in the world would still see 20% of its graduates end up on drugs or in jail? Maybe, maybe not. No one can tell from this study (or maybe there was a control group but the article just omitted that part?)

Or maybe the goal of the study was to show that the juvenile system as a whole is inadequate, and not just that one center? I think that to prove that, we would first have to measure the success rate of one or two truly exceptional centers, and then demonstrate that the average is far below this potential maximum.