Arrests of Adolescent Clients of a Public Mental Health System During Adolescence and Young Adulthood

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ObjectiveThis study examined the relationship of age and gender with risk of arrest among adolescents and young adults who were intensive adolescent users of public mental health services.MethodsData were obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) and juvenile and criminal courts. Participants were youths receiving DMH adolescent case management services sometime in 1994–1996 who were born between 1976 and 1979 (781 males and 738 females). They were cross-matched to document arrests between age seven and 25. The study examined age at first arrest, age-specific risk, and the relationship between arrest history and arrest risk by gender and age.ResultsMost males (69%) and almost half the females (46%) were arrested by age 25. First arrest was most common before age 18. As in the general population, males' arrest patterns were more concerning than those of females, although patterns were of concern in both groups. Most female arrestees had multiple arrests, many as adults. No gender differences were observed for several factors, including risk of first arrest over age 18. Risk was far greater for those arrested in the previous year than for those never arrested.ConclusionsFindings justify concerns of public mental health systems regarding justice system involvement of adolescent clients. Risk of first arrest was significant from early adolescence through age 24, indicating a need for arrest prevention into young adulthood. The heightened arrest risk at all ages among those who were recently arrested demarcates a population in need of immediate intervention.

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