Methods: Using secondary quantitative analysis, the current longitudinal study analyzed survey data from the Research on Pathways to Desistance study (PDS) at two time points: baseline and 84-months. Univariate and bivariate statistical analyses were conducted followed by multiple logistic regression to explore the relationship between mental health, substance use, school status, and criminal involvement among justice-involved youth to inform future research, practice, and policy endeavors.
Results: Within the study sample (n=1,354), 86 % (n=1,170) were male and 41.4% (n=561) were Black or Hispanic (33.5%, n=454). Data analysis revealed a significant positive relationship between substance use and offending (p<.001), and conversely, a significant negative relationship between school enrollment and offending (p=.041). No significant relationship was found between mental health problems and offending (p=.022). Throughout the ten-year study period (2000-2010), desistance from crime occurred by 22.3%, with a 25.9% decrease in illegal drug-use, and a 7.4% decrease in clinically significant mental health problems. Collectively, educational attainment among study participants was quite low with less than two-thirds obtaining a GED or high school diploma.
Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest several implications for research, practice, and policy. Regarding research, findings demonstrate a dire need for updated data regarding the current mental health status, school status, and severity of substance use among justice-involved youth following the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the field, practitioners and educators in direct contact with justice-involved youth should consider the implementation of holistic programming to address the multifaceted needs of justice-involved youth to increase high school/GED completion and future educational attainment. Policymakers may, too, take note of these findings by acknowledging the potential of and need for nationwide juvenile justice problem-solving courts for youth.