BACKGROUND:

Delinquent youth are at risk for early violent death after release from detention. However, few studies have examined risk factors for mortality. Previous investigations studied only serious offenders (a fraction of the juvenile justice population) and provided little data on females.

METHODS:

The Northwestern Juvenile Project is a prospective longitudinal study of health needs and outcomes of a stratified random sample of 1829 youth (657 females, 1172 males; 524 Hispanic, 1005 African American, 296 non-Hispanic white, 4 other race/ethnicity) detained between 1995 and 1998. Data on risk factors were drawn from interviews; death records were obtained up to 16 years after detention. We compared all-cause mortality rates and causes of death with those of the general population. Survival analyses were used to examine risk factors for mortality after youth leave detention.

RESULTS:

Delinquent youth have higher mortality rates than the general population to age 29 years (P < .05), irrespective of gender or race/ethnicity. Females died at nearly 5 times the general population rate (P < .05); Hispanic males and females died at 5 and 9 times the general population rates, respectively (P < .05). Compared with the general population, significantly more delinquent youth died of homicide and its subcategory, homicide by firearm (P < .05). Among delinquent youth, racial/ethnic minorities were at increased risk of homicide compared with non-Hispanic whites (P < .05). Significant risk factors for external-cause mortality and homicide included drug dealing (up to 9 years later), alcohol use disorder, and gang membership (up to a decade later).

CONCLUSIONS:

Delinquent youth are an identifiable target population to reduce disparities in early violent death.

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