Young adults with childhood history of both parental incarceration and juvenile justice involvement were more likely to have depression, anxiety or PTSD compared to those without either exposure, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
“Adverse childhood experiences, such as [parental incarceration], have a cumulative association with health outcomes in adulthood,” Nia Heard-Garris, MD, of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and colleagues wrote. “However, much of the current health research focuses on [parental incarceration or juvenile justice involvement] individually, largely ignoring the intergenerational cycle of incarceration in the United States.”
In a cross-sectional study, researchers examined the link between parental incarceration plus juvenile justice involvement exposure and mental health outcomes in young adulthood using data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health. They conducted in-home interviews with more than 13,000 participants. Participants were in grades 7 to 12 in 1994 to 1995, then the investigators measured mental health outcomes when participants were aged 14 to 32 years at follow-up in 2008.
Overall, 1,247 (9.1%) had childhood history of parental incarceration, 704 had history of parental incarceration after age 18 years, 492 had juvenile justice involvement only, and 141 had parental incarceration plus juvenile justice involvement.
Heard-Garris and colleagues reported that young adults with any history of childhood justice system exposure had significantly worse mental health outcomes than those without such histories.
After adjustment for covariates, analysis revealed that exposure to both parental incarceration and juvenile justice involvement were at the highest risk for depression (OR = 2.8; 95% CI, 1.6-4.9), anxiety (OR = 1.89; 95% CI, 1.08-3.31) and PTSD (OR = 2.92; 95% CI, 1.09-7.82) compared with peers without exposure. In addition, these young adults were also more likely to have received mental health counseling than those without such exposures (OR = 2.08; 95% CI, 1.01-4.27).
However, those exposed to both did not have an additive association with mental health beyond parental incarceration or juvenile justice involvement alone, according to the results.
“Developing and implementing alternatives to incarceration in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems may be an important step to ameliorating adverse mental health outcomes for youth exposed to the justice system that are evident in their lives as adults,” Heard-Garris and colleagues wrote. “Future studies should continue to focus on populations affected by [parental incarceration] and [juvenile justice involvement], including understanding the association of this dual exposure with physical health and subsequent corresponding disparities.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.