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Study finds youths incarcerated in adult correction facilities may lead to early mortality

Premature death linked to exposure to risk factors including diminished psychological and physical health

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. - A new study led by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, found youths incarcerated in adult jail facilities or adult prison facilities before the age of 18 were associated with a 33% increase in the risk of mortality between 18 and 39 years of age. The Study, published in JAMA Network Open, suggests that this risk of mortality could coincide with reports of substantive increases in posttraumatic stress disorder and depression amongst youths in adult facilities. Alongside these findings, the study observed that any formal contact with the legal system before the age of 18 was associated with an 18% increase in the risk of mortality between 18 and 39 years of age.

“The adult prison system is not designed for the crucial development years of adolescence,” said Ian Silver, Ph.D., author of the study and quantitative criminologist at RTI. “Within such a system youths may not only engage in risky behaviors, but they may directly experience risk factors associated with the likelihood of early mortality, including increased risk for violent victimization, substance use and disease.” 
Silver and his colleagues relied on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort, a nationally representative study of adolescences as they age to adulthood funded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study involved a random sample 8,951 individuals born in the United States between 1984 and 1987, who were first interviewed in 1997. The interviews continued until 2019. A total of 109 participants were incarcerated as youth in adult facilities and 225 participants died during the study period and were between the age of 18 and 39. 

In most U.S. states, youths can be transferred and sentenced in adult court, resulting in detention in adult jail or prison facilities. Incarceration in juvenile versus adult correctional facilities represents vastly different experiences. Adult facilities are often much larger and place less emphasis on treatment, counseling and education. Incarcerated youths often experience health challenges related to dental care, sexual and reproductive health and mental well-being.
“The findings in this study highlight the need for rethinking the practice of transferring youths to adult facilities to avoid the potential lethality of such exposure,” added Silver. 
Read the full study 
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