HIV/AIDS Risk Behaviors Among Juvenile Detainees: Prevalence, Patterns, and Public Health Policy

Amy Mericle, Northwestern University Medical School
Linda A. Teplin, Northwestern University Medical School
Gary M. McClelland, Northwestern University Medical School
Karen M. Abram, Northwestern University Medical School

AIDS cases continue to increase among minorities and disadvantaged populations, groups also overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. The literature suggests that detained youth engage in serious HIV/AIDS risk behaviors, yet there are few studies that examine risk behaviors by demographic subgroups. These data are critical to effective intervention.

We administered the AIDS Risk Behavior Assessment (ARBA) to 800 randomly selected juvenile detainees, 340 females and 460 males, ages 10-18 years. We present the prevalence of 32 sex and drug HIV/AIDS risk behaviors by gender, race/ethnicity, and age.

We found that detained youth engage in many HIV/AIDS risk behaviors and do so at early ages. Sixty percent of our subjects engaged in 10 or more risk behaviors. Nearly two-thirds of the youngest males had vaginal sex. Further, we found that rates differ significantly by gender and race/ethnicity.

Our results indicate that the public health system must provide interventions for detained youth, must intervene early, and must target specific patterns of risk across gender and race/ethnicity. Many youth at particular risk for HIV/AIDS - youth who use drugs, runaways - will eventually cycle through the juvenile justice system. HIV/AIDS risk behaviors among detained youth are community health problem, not just a problem for detention centers.

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Updated 05/20/2006