Detained adolescents: Mental health needs, treatment use, and recidivism

Laura M. White, Katherine S.L. Lau, Matthew C. Aalsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Although approximately 60 to 70 percent of detained adolescents meet criteria for a mental disorder, few receive treatment upon community re-entry. Given that mental health treatment can reduce recidivism, we examined detained adolescents’ mental health needs and their postdetention mental health treatment and recidivism. Altogether, 1,574 adolescents (≤18 years) completed a mental health screening at a detention center. Scores on the screening, mental health treatment utilization (60 days after detention), and recidivism (6 months after detention) were measured. About 82.2 percent of adolescents had elevated scores on the mental health screening, but only 16.4 percent obtained treatment and 37.2 percent reoffended. Logistic regression models revealed adolescents with insurance and higher angry–irritable scores were significantly more likely to obtain treatment, whereas males, black and older adolescents, and those endorsing a trauma history were less likely. Black adolescents, insured adolescents, and those with higher alcohol and drug use scores were significantly more likely to reoffend. Mental health treatment increased the likelihood of recidivism. The prevalence of mental health needs among detained adolescents was high, but treatment utilization was low, with notable treatment disparities across race, gender, and age. The use of mental health treatment predicted recidivism, suggesting that treatment acts as a proxy measure of mental health problems. Future research should assess the impact of timely and continuous mental health services on recidivism among detained adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-212
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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