Grande, T.L., J. Hallman, B. Rutledge, K. Caldwell, B. Upton, L.A. Underwood, K.M. Warren, and M. Rehfuss. (2012). Examining mental health symptoms in male and female incarcerated juveniles. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 30(3):365-369.
By Lori Whitten, Staff Writer, RTI International, Rockville, MD
Incarcerated youth often have significant needs for mental health services, and addressing the resulting behavioral problems is critical to their successful return to the community. Information on how girls and boys in the juvenile justice system may differ in mental health symptoms will help guide gender-specific assessments and tailor treatment protocols. To determine differences between male and female juvenile offenders in the prevalence rates of various mental health symptoms, Dr. Lee A. Underwood, Psy.D., and colleagues at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, analyzed clinical assessments from 4,015 youth entering secure juvenile care facilities in a single state in the southwest.
The researchers found that girls had higher prevalence of the following mental health symptoms than boys: overall maladjustment, expressing psychological problems through physical complaints, depression and anxiety, suicide ideation, and traumatic experiences. These findings are consistent with those of prior studies in terms of the types of mental health problems that were more prevalent among girls than boys. Analyses of the assessment scores indicated that the gender differences, however, were relatively small compared with those observed in prior research. Dr. Underwood and colleagues suggest that the small difference between genders in their study may indicate an increasing prevalence of mental health symptoms among incarcerated boys. Alternatively, the findings may reflect a unique characteristic of the sample of youth studied.
The youth who completed these mental health assessments—87 percent of whom were male—entered the juvenile corrections system between 2005 and 2010. The teens were aged 16, on average, and the majority was Hispanic or Mexican nationals. Upon entering correctional facilities, staff completed a structured assessment of each youth’s mental health problems using various instruments designed to either screen for general characteristics or identify specific disorders.
Dr. Underwood and colleagues suggest that the significant differences in mental health symptoms between incarcerated girls and boys indicate a need for juvenile correctional facilities to change assessment and treatment in ways that meet each group’s specific needs. Future research should focus on improving the accuracy of assessment and diagnosis for this population. Development of gender-informed and effective treatment also is necessary to nurture incarcerated adolescents and build on their strengths so they may successfully integrate into the community and avoid recidivism.
For more information contact Dr. Lee A. Underwood, School of Psychology and Counseling, Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia firstname.lastname@example.org.
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