Mortality of Youth Offenders Along a Continuum of Justice System Involvement

Published:November 12, 2015DOI:


      Black male youth are at high risk of homicide and criminal justice involvement. This study aimed to determine how early mortality among youth offenders varies based on race; gender; and the continuum of justice system involvement: arrest, detention, incarceration, and transfer to adult courts.


      Criminal and death records of 49,479 youth offenders (ages 10–18 years at first arrest) in Marion County, Indiana, from January 1, 1999, to December 31, 2011, were examined. Statistical analyses were completed in November 2014.


      From 1999 to 2011 (aggregate exposure, 386,709 person-years), 518 youth offender deaths occurred. The most common cause of death was homicide (48.2%). The mortality rate of youth offenders was nearly 1.5 times greater than that among community youth (standardized mortality ratio, 1.48). The youth offender mortality rate varied depending on the severity of justice system involvement. Arrested youth had the lowest rate of mortality (90/100,000), followed by detained youth (165/100,000); incarcerated youth (216/100,000); and youth transferred to adult court (313/100,000). A proportional hazards model demonstrated that older age, male gender, and more severe justice system involvement 5 years post-arrest predicted shorter time to mortality.


      Youth offenders face greater risk for early death than community youth. Among these, black male youth face higher risk of early mortality than their white male counterparts. However, regardless of race/ethnicity, mortality rates for youth offenders increase as youth involvement in the justice system becomes more protracted and severe. Thus, justice system involvement is a significant factor to target for intervention.
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