Children placed in juvenile detention before they are 14 years old are more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults, according to new research led by CTSI KL2 scholar Dr. Elizabeth Barnert and her mentor, Laura Abrams.

The research, published in  the International Journal of Prisoner Health, found that more than 21 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared to 13 percent incarcerated later in life and eight percent who had never been incarcerated.

Researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine, Mattel Children's Hospital, and the Luskin School of Public Affairs analyzed data from 14,689 adult participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Their analysis considered three groups: adults who had been incarcerated between ages 7-13 years, adults who had been incarcerated between ages 14-32 years, and adults who had never been incarcerated.

Thirty-eight percent of people incarcerated before age 14 reported symptoms of depression as adults, compared to 24 percent of people incarcerated between ages 14-32  and 15 percent among people who had never been incarcerated. 

Although the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between childhood incarceration and adult health, it suggests that incarcerated youth are a medically vulnerable population.

"Incarceration has human costs at all ages, but with children, it's particularly problematic," Abrams, professor and chair of the social welfare  at the Luskin School, said. "Children need spaces to grow and thrive -- not be be confined in jail-like settings."

"Those at risk for imprisonment during childhood need special attention from the health care sector," Dr. Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School, said. "The rates of poor health outcomes among people who've been incarcerated tell us there's a huge need for us to take better care of them -- both as kids and as adults."

Further Reading:

The abstract in The International Journal of Prisoner Health: "Child Incarceration and Long-term Health Outcomes: A Longitudinal Study"

The UCLA press release

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