Youth justice study shows fatal trend
A new study shows young people who have had contact with the youth justice system are at increased risk of early death, prompting researchers to call for more early intervention programs for at-risk youth.
Professor Alan Clough from James Cook University took part in the study. He said young people who have contact with the justice system are known to be more likely than other young people to experience suicidal behaviours, violence, and injury, which can lead to premature death.
“However, evidence about the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers - in young people with a history of involvement with the justice system is lacking,” said Professor Clough.
The researchers examined the histories of 48,670 individuals aged 10–18 years charged with a criminal offence in Queensland between 1993 and 2014.
Professor Clough said 1431 deaths occurred in that group during the study period, 932 had a known and attributed cause with 121 (13.0%) of these deaths from NCDs. The rate of deaths from NCDs in the cohort was 70% higher than the general population of the same age and sex in Australia.
“We found that rates of death due to cardiovascular and digestive diseases were particularly increased among those with a history of involvement with the youth justice system compared with the general population,” said Professor Clough.
He said mortality rates due to chronic respiratory diseases were actually lower among people with a history of contact with the youth justice system, and rates of other specific causes of NCD deaths did not differ significantly from the general population.
“Overall though, we found that first contact with the youth justice system before age 14 years was associated with a substantially increased NCD mortality rate compared with the general population.
“Improved health data surveillance, prevention efforts, and health care for young people with a history of involvement with the justice system, including during detention, is crucial to stopping this cycle of amplified social exclusion and disadvantage,” said Professor Clough.
Professor Alan Clough