Mental Health and Incarcerated Youth I:  Prevalence and Nature of Psychopathology

D. Lanette Atkins, M.D., Andres J. Pumariega, M.D., Kenneth Rogers, M.D,, Larry Montgomery, M.D., Cheryl Nybro, Ph.D., Gary Jeffers, and Franklin Sease, B.S.


The incarceration of mentally ill youth is a serious problem not receiving the same attention as in adults.  In this study, we examine the prevalence of psychopathology and level of behavioral symptomatology in incarcerated youth versus youth receiving community mental health services or hospitalization.  We randomly recruited youth from middle South Carolina served by a local CMHC (n = 60), youth served by the state adolescent inpatient program (n = 50), and youth in the S.C. Dept. of Juvenile Justice facilities from the same region (n = 75).  We used the DISC-PC 2.3 to evaluate DSM-III-R diagnoses and CBCL and YSR to evaluate behavioral symptomatology.  On the DISC, incarcerated youth had significantly higher mean number of diagnoses and symptoms than CMHC youth, but lower numbers than hospitalized youth.  Level of "caseness" (at least one diagnosis) was 86% in hospital youth, 72% in incarcerated youth, and 60% in CMHC youth.  The groups differed in CBCL mean total T, internalizing T, and externalizing T scores as well as mean YSR internalizing T scores.  Our results indicate the comparability in level of psychopathology in incarcerated and community-treated populations of youth, and the need to develop diversionary programs to prevent the entry of such youth into the juvenile justice system.


This article may be found in its entirety in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol. 8 No. 2, 1999 pages 193-204.


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