Early Death in Juvenile Detainees: Prevalence and Patterns

Linda A. Teplin, Northwestern University Medical School
Gary M. McClelland, Northwestern University Medical School
Karen M. Abram, Northwestern University Medical School
Kristin M. Emanuel, Northwestern University Medical School

Several excellent studies show that youth involved with the juvenile justice system have significantly higher death rates than general population youth. Prior studies, however, have examined only whites, have not studied Latinos, or have not investigated females. Females and minorities are both important groups to study for two reasons. First, the population of female offenders has grown steadily. Second, racial/ethnic minorities comprise 29% of juvenile arrests and 62% of detained youth.

This study presents death rates among youth in the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of 1829 randomly selected juvenile detainees, 1172 males, 658 females, ages 10-18 years old. The sample is stratified by race/ethnicity, gender, age and legal status (processed as adults versus processed as a juvenile). Because our sample differs in age, race/ethnicity and gender from the general population of youth, we use direct standardization to make the general population data comparable to ours. We standardize the age, race and gender distributions to present unbiased mortality rates for the two samples.

Fifty-three of our 1829 subjects have died. All died violently, and 40 died of gunshot wounds. The annual death rate for our population of juveniles age 15-24 was 10.2 per 1,000 persons. This is 7.75 times greater than the adjusted mortality rate for the United States population of this age group, and 3.89 times greater than the adjusted mortality rate of Cook County, Illinois.

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Updated 05/20/2006