United States Youth Arrest and Health Across the Life Course: A Nationally Representative Longitudinal Study

Published:August 30, 2022DOI:



      Youth are arrested at high rates in the United States; however, long-term health effects of arrest remain unmeasured. We sought to describe the sociodemographic characteristics and health of adults who were arrested at various ages among a nationally representative sample.


      Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, we describe sociodemographics and health status in adolescence (Wave I, ages 12–21) and adulthood (Wave V, ages 32–42) for people first arrested at age younger than 14 years, 14 to 17 years, and 18 to 24 years, compared to never arrested adults. Health measures included physical health (general health, mobility/functional limitations, death), mental health (depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts), and clinical biomarkers (hypertension, diabetes). We estimate associations between age of first arrest and health using covariate adjusted regressions.


      Among the sample of 10,641 adults, 28.5% had experienced arrest before age 25. Individuals first arrested as children (ie, age <14) were disproportionately Black, compared to White. Compared to individuals never arrested, people arrested before age 25 had more depressive symptoms and higher rates of suicidal thoughts during adolescence. Arrest before age 25 was associated with worse self-reported health, higher rates of functional limitations, more depressive symptoms, and greater mortality by adulthood (ages 32–42).


      Arrest before age 25 was associated with worse physical and mental health--and even death in adulthood. Child arrest was disproportionately experienced by Black children. Reducing arrests of youth may be associated with improved health across the life course, particularly among Black youth, thereby promoting health equity.


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