The City of Chicago got another bit of bad news when an article authored by my colleagues at Northwestern University was recently published. In JAMA Pediatrics, Abram et al reported on their study, which looked at positive outcomes of delinquent youth who spent time at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). This study was done 12 years after the youth were detained. Unsurprisingly, young people who are detained in the JTDC don’t do well in the long run.
The authors did something different than what is usually done in a delinquent youth follow-up study. These authors focused on psychological well-being, not criminal recidivism. They studied achievement of outcomes in eight domains:
- Educational attainment
- Residential independence
- Gainful activity
- Desistance from criminal activity
- Mental health
- Abstaining from substance abuse
- Interpersonal functioning
- Parenting responsibility
Really, the researchers examined all the positive things we want for our own children who are in their mid to late twenties.
The results are dismal. Only one in five males and one in two females had achieved more than half of the positive outcomes. The authors reported that African-Americans males did the worst; they were more likely to be incarcerated, engage in criminal activity and have few positive outcomes.
In medical school, we are taught that children aren’t little adults. Children are not just physically smaller than adults, but their metabolism is different, their body parts are proportioned differently (relatively big head compared to rest of body), etc. In many ways, the same concept applies to adolescents; they are not little adults, although physically they may look like adults. Adolescent brains, like the brains of small children, are rapidly developing. When we make policies that affect adolescents’ long term outcome, it is important to take into account the on-going development of the adolescent brain.
This recent paper provides quantifiable evidence that our current system to help our most troubled youth is failing — something that juvenile justice advocates have long recognized and are working collaboratively to address.
In 2017, Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, together with Cook County Juvenile Probation Department, TASC, the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and 10 community-based service providers, launched the Juvenile Justice Collaborative project. Up to 50 young people, ages 12 to 18 years, will be referred to the Collaborative to receive appropriate mental health and other services, instead of being detained with inadequate support. This innovative pilot is funded by both government sources and philanthropy.
For the 6-month pilot program, re-arrests and positive outcomes, such as school attendance and health status, will be tracked. I look forward to reporting the results when the pilot is completed. Chicago could use a bit of good news.