Trauma Highly Prevalent Among Delinquents

Almost every boy and girl currently detained in a juvenile facility in the United States has experienced at least one major trauma, and a large proportion of these children have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study in the April issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Karen M. Abram and colleagues at the Psycholegal Studies Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University showed that over 90 percent of delinquent youth in a large, temporary detention center for juveniles had had one or more traumas, such as witnessing violence or being threatened with a weapon.

Abram and co-researchers assessed psychiatric disorders in 900 African American, non-Hispanic white and Hispanic teens who were 10 to 18 years old and randomly selected at admission to the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. About 8,500 juveniles enter the facility each year for pre-trial detention and brief sentences. The Cook County facility was selected because it is typical of other urban detention centers nationwide.

Results of the study also showed that a significantly higher number of boys than girls -- 93 percent versus 84 percent -- reported at least one traumatic experience. More than 12 percent of the participants met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“While it’s true that the study participants, like most juvenile detainees in the United States, live in urban areas that have high rates of violence, our findings also are consistent with research linking traumatic victimization in childhood and subsequent psychosocial problems, such as delinquency and drug use,” Abram said.

Among their other recommendations, the researchers said that the mental health system must improve services for high-risk youth who are victims of trauma; improve the detection of post-traumatic stress disorder in juvenile detainees; and avoid re-traumatizing children during detention.

Abram is assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Her co-authors on this study were Linda A. Teplin, Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Psycholegal Studies Program; Devon R. Charles; Sandra L. Longworth; Gary M. McClelland, research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Mina K. Dulcan, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and head of child and adolescent psychiatry, Children’s Memorial Hospital.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation and a consortium of other agencies.


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