Young offenders exhibit disastrous health profiles

December 10, 2013 by Anne Rahilly

Young people serving time in youth detention or serving community-based orders have extremely high rates of substance dependence, poor mental health and engage in risky sexual behaviour, a new study has found.

Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the University of Melbourne interviewed over 500 in custody or serving community based orders in Victoria between 2002 and 2003. The survey asked participants about their educational and vocational experiences, violence and , offence history, of and imprisonment and their substance use and own mental .

Researchers found that 34% of young people serving community based orders and 66% in youth detention were dependent on alcohol, cannabis, heroin, amphetamines or sedatives – the most common being cannabis. Those serving time in youth detention were significantly more likely to have ever injected a drug (48% compared with 13%). Rates of hazardous alcohol use were also high in both groups: 73% for young people serving community based orders and 82% for those in custody.

The researchers found that depression was common in both groups and many reported engaging in self-harm. In both groups, 29% reported having a family member with a history of mental illness. The majority reported having sex before 15 years of age, and around one in ten reported having had more than five sexual partners in the past six months.

Lead author Associate Professor Stuart Kinner said, "Although overall the health profile of those in custody was worse than that among young people serving community orders, the sheer number of young people serving community orders means that the total health burden is at least as high in this group."

A/Prof Kinner said the study highlights the need for health services to be scaled up for young people in custody and under supervision in the community.

"The links between substance use, poorly managed mental illness and offending are well documented. Addressing the complex health needs of these young people therefore has the potential to not only improve their future, but also reduce the risk of reoffending – it's a win-win situation."

Senior author Professor George Patton said the findings of the study highlight a large population of young people who are likely to have considerable unmet need for coordinated , substance use and social services – particularly in the community.

"Young people in juvenile detention have disastrous health profile that costs them dearly in premature death and disability and the community in their reoffending. The health problems of young offenders are inseparable from their offending. These young people become caught in a vicious cycle in which substance abuse and mental disorders contribute directly and indirectly to their offending.

There is a compelling case for investment in both health and vocational training of these young people as they enter the justice system and crucially, as they return to the community. Recent innovations in monitoring the health of adult offenders should be extended to young offenders—including those serving community based orders—where the best opportunities for early intervention lie."

Explore further: Risk-taking young people need better health services

Related Stories

Risk-taking young people need better health services

November 28, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Comprehensive health assessments and supports need to be more widely available for young people attending secondary schools in New Zealand, according to a new study.

Obama hopes youth not discouraged by health woes

December 5, 2013
President Barack Obama says he hopes young people don't get discouraged by how hard it has been to implement health care reform.

Having multiple sex partners linked to later drug and alcohol problems

February 15, 2013
The more sex partners young adults have the more likely they are to go on to develop alcohol or cannabis dependence disorders in young adulthood, according to new University of Otago research.

How poor mental health and casual sex reinforce each other

November 19, 2013
A new study suggests that poor mental health and casual sex feed off each other in teens and young adults, with each one contributing to the other over time.

Services fail to treat prisoners with schizophrenia – increasing risk of violent reoffending

November 19, 2013
Maintaining psychiatric treatment both during imprisonment and after release can substantially reduce the risk of violent reoffending. Better screening and treatment of prisoners is therefore essential to prevent violence.

UK military personnel at increased risk of violent offending

March 14, 2013
Most strikingly, the study found that the proportion of young servicemen (under 30 years old) with a conviction for violent offending was much higher than among men of a similar age in the general population (20.6% vs 6.7%).

Recommended for you

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.