In yet another example of the maliciousness born of the schools-to-prison pipeline movement, new research finds the same delinquent behavior that lands privileged white juveniles under the care of a physician serves as formal indoctrination into the criminal justice system for most black youths.
In research dating as far back as 2003 and spanning such diverse and far-away locales as Chicago, Louisiana, Texas and Washington, data shows factors ranging from public funding for mental health programs to the stigmatization associated with such ailments to the lack of policies and legislation enacted for such issues largely accounts for most of the discrepancies.
And yet, not too surprisingly one of the greatest single factors appears to be that of class distinction, according to Dr. Linda Teplin, the project’s head researcher and a professor and vice chair of research of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
“Many of these kids could be effectively treated in their communities and not detained,” she added. “Think about what happens. It’s often poor kids … they live in areas more densely trafficked by police and poor people are less likely to get a family attorney. There’s a class bias for who gets into detention.”
While concurring with most of Teplin’s evaluations, co-researcher and Georgetown assistant professor Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble was perhaps even more direct in her assessment.
“These are two very different consequences for the same set of behaviors,” she said. “My own experiences as a clinical and child mental health disparities researcher—consulting with schools, churches and community centers, as well as treating patients myself— support this idea.”
Headlining the category of most common diagnoses are disruptive disorders, such as conduct disorders, clinically defined as long-term defiance, impulsive behavior, drug use or criminal activity during childhood.
Yet, when such diagnoses are removed from overall analysis, two-thirds of all youth still met the criteria associated with some sort of psychiatric order, researchers found. In data published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Teplin noted that such findings raise the question of if certain children are innately psychiatric or if their conditions might be the result of difficult upbringings, traumatic experiences or both.
Adding to the seemingly never-ending levels of depravity heaped upon what critics argue are defenseless victims, findings also reveal many of the incarcerated teens continue to suffer from their illnesses as late as five years after being released and some of them showed signs of being even more psychotic.
“For some youth, detention may coincide with a period of crisis that subsequently abates,” researchers concluded in a statement. “Many youth, however, continue to struggle… had one or more psychiatric disorders with associated impairment.”
Still another study found that entering the juvenile justice system is the only way some youths even come to receive a psychiatric diagnosis of any kind, though with all the recent cuts to state and federal staffing budgets even that likelihood has become less and less of a probability.
Of the more than 1,800, 10 to 18 youths observed and interacted with as part of the first-of-its -kind Northwestern Juvenile Project researchers concluded 45 percent of males and 30 percent of females who had been in juvenile detention suffered from one or more psychiatric disorder upon their release, a condition that continues to gravely afflict most of them even as they mature into early adulthood.
In Teplin’s mind all these findings serve to further illustrate her irrefutable conclusion that many of those in detention indeed have special psychological needs and that more often than not it’s purely the consideration of “socioeconomic disadvantages” that land them in incarceration.
“Obviously, it’s better to provide community service than to build correctional facilities,” she said. “Otherwise, the lack of services perpetuates the revolving door between the community and corrections.”
More recently, a pattern where more females are at greater risk of being disorder suffers has emerged, with one study concluded that as many as 80 percent of all females being housed at one facility met the criteria for psychiatric illness compared to 67 percent of boys.
The National Center for Mental Health attributes the growing difference to the tendency for more girls to suffer from such internalizing disorders as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders. Boys, on the other hand, remain far more likely to develop what’s classified as disruptive or substance abuse disorders.
Distinctions and varying diagnoses aside, in the end University of North Carolina Hospitals child and adolescent psychiatrist Jacqueline Smith feels the issue can be summed up in a few basic truths.
“Minority children are overly represented in the juvenile system, meaning their behaviors are more likely to be seen as criminal, not the result of mental illness or family problems,” she said. “It seems as though, rather than getting appropriate treatment and services, minority youth are shunted to the juvenile justice system.”
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.