Juvenile Incarceration and Health

Published:September 18, 2015DOI:


      Addressing the health status and needs of incarcerated youth represents an issue at the nexus of juvenile justice reform and health care reform. Incarcerated youth face disproportionately higher morbidity and higher mortality compared to the general adolescent population. Dental health, reproductive health, and mental health needs are particularly high, likely as a result of lower access to care, engagement in high-risk behaviors, and underlying health disparities. Violence exposure and injury also contribute to the health disparities seen in this population. Further, juvenile incarceration itself is an important determinant of health. Juvenile incarceration likely correlates with worse health and social functioning across the life course. Correctional health care facilities allow time for providers to address the unmet physical and mental health needs seen in this population. Yet substantial challenges to care delivery in detention facilities exist and quality of care in detention facilities varies widely. Community-based pediatricians can serve a vital role in ensuring continuity of care in the postdetention period and linking youth to services that can potentially prevent juvenile offending. Pediatricians who succeed in understanding and addressing the underlying social contexts of their patients' lives can have tremendous impact in improving the life trajectories of these vulnerable youth. Opportunities exist in clinical care, research, medical education, policy, and advocacy for pediatricians to lead change and improve the health status of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.


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