Understanding the racial and ethnic differences in the needs and services of young offenders

The Challenge 

Many youth in the U.S. juvenile justice system have untreated mental health or substance abuse issues, which can intensify when they are released.

With funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Westat is studying racial and ethnic differences in mental health and substance abuse needs among youth incarcerated in juvenile justice facilities. This study will focus on differences among racial and ethnic minority subpopulations rarely examined in national studies, such as American Indian/Alaska Native; Native Hawaiians; and subgroups of Hispanics, such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans.

The study will enhance our understanding of subgroup differences by also comparing the subpopulations to the larger and more commonly reported racial/ethnic group categories: non-Hispanic White, African American, and Hispanic.

Our Solutions 

  • We will analyze data on mental health and substance abuse issues from the Westat-designed and -administered National Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), which sampled a racially and ethnically diverse group of 7,000 young people.
  • Using methods to assure anonymity of respondents, SYRP gathered data directly from youth in custody on sensitive topics, such as alcohol and other substance use, mental health problems, criminal histories, and medical services and needs, among other topics.
  • We estimate the racial and ethnic differences in mental health and substance abuse problems and services received among race/ethnic subgroups.
  • To account for differences among the race/ethnic subgroups in other characteristics that may be associated with problems or services, we will also account for other factors that may affect their needs and services, such as their age and sex; the crime they committed; and differences in facilities’ programs, screening practices, and staff qualifications.

The Results 

  • We will share our findings with researchers and professionals who work with youth in the criminal justice system. The findings from this study will help
    • Improve understanding of the screening and treatment needs of youth, including those in less-studied minority populations
    • Improve the services provided to youth, including services that help young people move from a facility to the community

Our Client 

National Institute of Justice (NIJ)