Saturday, 15 January 2005 - 8:00 AM
This presentation is part of: Delinquency in Female Adolescents
Demographic, Psychosocial and Clinical Characteristics of Incarcerated Adolescent FemalesJonathan L. Zelner, BA, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, Michael K. Dayton, BA, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, Matthew O. Howard, PHD, University of Michigan, and Kirk A. Foster, MDiv, MSW, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University.
Purpose: Few studies have systematically examined the characteristics of female adolescents incarcerated for serious/chronic antisocial behavior. This project was funded by two National Institute on Drug Abuse grants to examine the demographic, psychosocial mental health, and cognitive characteristics of youth incarcerated in the Missouri State Division of Youth Services (DYS) residential treatment system. Descriptive findings are presented for the sample of girls we have interviewed to date who are serving sentences in DYS institutions. Methods: The Missouri DYS residential treatment system is comprised of 32 facilities; approximately 716 youth are in residence at any one time. At present, we have completed 410 interviews in 19 facilities with a 98.7 % resident participation rate. Youth complete a 60-to-90 minute interview including standardized measures of trauma exposure, substance use, mental health symptoms, suicidality, criminal activity, and psychological and cognitive characteristics. The study was approved by the Washington University IRB and federal Office of Human Research Protection. The sampling frame consists of all youth in residence at each facility at the time interviewing of that facility commences. Results: Of the 410 DYS residents we have interviewed, 57 (13.9 %) were girls. Girls averaged 15.5 (SD=1.1, range =13 – 17) years of age; 38 (66.7 %) were Caucasian, 14 (24.6 %) were African American, and 3 (5.3 %) and 2 (3.5 %), respectively, were biracial and Latina. A total of 22 girls (38.6 %) reported that their families received TANF payments, Section 8 housing, and/or Food Stamps. Mental health problems were endemic among this group. Thirty-three (57.9 %) girls reported that they had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder by a mental health professional. These 33 girls reported 44 total diagnoses, including 16 diagnoses of bipolar disorder, 11 of depression, 3 of anxiety disorder (GAD, OCD, and PTSD), and 3 miscellaneous disorders. A majority of the 57 girls interviewed reported that they had felt that life was not worth living (70.2 %), had given up hope for their lives (57.9 %), had felt like killing themselves (57.9 %), and had actually attempted to kill themselves (52.6 %). A majority of girls had also personally witnessed someone being seriously injured or killed (54.4 %), had experienced something “very bad or terrifying” that had happened to them (71.9 %), and had been raped or in danger of getting raped (56.1 %). Measures of substance use and current psychiatric symptoms revealed high rates of problems. Implications: Although a majority of incarcerated girls have experienced serious trauma and suffer from significant mental health and substance use problems, assessment and treatment services for girls in residing in juvenile justice facilities remain woefully inadequate.
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