Methods: This study used data from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, the first large-scale longitudinal survey of mental health and substance misuse outcomes in a representative sample of adolescent detainees. The sample consisted of 738 individuals who completed surveys at baseline, follow-up 1 (3 years after baseline), and follow-up 2 (3.5 years after baseline), of whom 74% received any mental health services between baseline and follow-up 1. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to test the hypothesis that mental health services received between baseline and follow-up 1 were associated with lower rates of re-arrest at Follow-up 2. Services included inpatient (residential placements), outpatient (community), and school-based services, each dichotomized for no services/any services in each category. OLS and logistic regression models were fit with re-arrest operationalized both as a continuous variable (i.e., number of arrests, arrest variety) and a dichotomous variable (i.e., any arrest).
Results: The study population was 89% male, 79% Black, 14% Hispanic, 7% White, averaging 18.2 years old at follow-up 1. Bivariate analyses using OLS and logistic regression showed that of the services assessed, only outpatient services received from baseline to follow-up 1 were associated with recidivism at follow-up 2. Specifically, individuals who received outpatient services between baseline and follow-up 1 had significantly lower odds of re-arrest between follow-up 1 and follow-up 2 (OR = 0.38, p < .05). This statistically significant association remained when controlling for race, gender, length of time incarcerated, mental health diagnoses, and when re-arrest was modeled as a continuous variable.
Conclusions and Implications: As the assumed goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, it is important to identify what works in reducing recidivism for justice-involved youth. Outpatient mental health service use between baseline and follow-up 1 significantly reduced recidivism at follow-up 2. These findings are important as they demonstrate the importance of offering community based mental health services to justice-involved youth in order to reduce further delinquency. Additional research is needed to explain the mechanisms of how type of mental health service use works as a promotive factor to reduce recidivism for justice involved adolescents.