Young people who become involved in the judicial system are more likely to die young. This is the finding of a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

[hands on fence]Share on Pinterest
Young offenders are more likely to die early, according to researchers.

One in three Americans are arrested before the age of 23.

Now, research shows that youth offenders face a greater chance of early death than the rest of the population, and the more frequent, serious and prolonged the involvement is, the higher the risk.

Investigators from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Terre Haute analyzed the deaths of 518 youth offenders between 1999-2011 in Indianapolis and surrounding Marion County, IN.

Contact with the justice system was classified into four categories: arrested, detained, incarcerated and transferred to adult court.

Five years after arrest, the death rates rose in order of least contact to most contact.

The rate of fatalities were as follows:

  • Arrested youth: 90 deaths in 100,000
  • Detained youth: 165 deaths in 100,000
  • Incarcerated youth: 216 deaths in 100,000
  • Transferred to adult court: 313 deaths in 100,000.

The data revealed that the more complicated the interaction between the youth and the justice system, the more likely it was that the offender would die young.

A young offender who is transferred to adult court is three times more likely to face early mortality than one who is simply arrested. Compared with peers who had not been in trouble with the law, the mortality rate for youth offenders was higher by around 1.5 times.

Cause of death was determined for 400 of the 518 deceased youth offenders. Within this group, the most common reason was homicide at 48.2%, 14.7% of deaths were caused by overdose, 11.7% committed suicide, 11.7% died from natural causes, and 13.5% of fatalities were due to other causes, such as motor vehicle accidents, drowning or accidental shooting.

While the risk applies to all youth, the majority of the deaths in this research occurred among black males.

Lead investigator Matthew C. Aalsma, PhD, says:

It is well established that black youth, compared with white youth, are over-represented in the justice system and bear a disproportionate burden of death by homicide.

However, the interaction between justice system involvement and race/ethnicity was not statistically significant. This suggests that the severity of criminal justice involvement, rather than race/ethnicity, is a strong driver of early mortality among youth offenders.”

On the basis of these grim findings, the researchers are calling for interventions to curtail youth involvement with the traditional judicial system.

They suggest mentoring, after-school programs and school-based programming, as research has shown that these can reach large numbers of arrested youth, and preempt the increased risk of death associated with secure confinement.

Dr. Aalsma especially recommends more effort and more aggressive intervention to prevent gun-related homicide.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported that emotional awareness can prevent reoffending among those who have already been in trouble with the law.