Objectives: Our goal was to examine the prevalence, development, and persistence of drug and sex risk behaviors that place delinquent youth at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Methods: At the baseline interview, HIV/sexually transmitted infection drug and sex risk behaviors were assessed in a stratified random sample of 800 juvenile detainees aged 10 to 18 years. Participants were reinterviewed approximately 3 years later. The final sample in these analyses (n = 724) included 316 females and 408 males; there were 393 African American participants, 198 Hispanic participants, 131 non-Hispanic white participants, and 2 participants who self-identified their race as "other."
Results: More than 60% of youth had engaged in > or = 10 risk behaviors at their baseline interview, and nearly two thirds of them persisted in > or = 10 risk behaviors at follow-up. Among youth living in the community, many behaviors were more prevalent at follow-up than at baseline. Among incarcerated youth, the opposite pattern prevailed. Compared with females, males had higher prevalence rates of many HIV/sexually transmitted infection risk behaviors and were more likely to persist in some behaviors and develop new ones. Yet, injection risk behaviors were more prevalent among females than males and were also more likely to develop and persist. Overall, there were few racial and ethnic differences in patterns of HIV/sexually transmitted infection risk behaviors; most involved the initiation and persistence of substance use among non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics.
Conclusions: Because detained youth have a median stay of only 2 weeks, HIV/sexually transmitted infection risk behaviors in delinquent youth are a community public health problem, not just a problem for the juvenile justice system. Improving the coordination among systems that provide HIV/sexually transmitted infection interventions to youth--primary care, education, mental health, and juvenile justice--can reduce the prevalence of risk behaviors and substantially reduce the spread of HIV/sexually transmitted infection in young people.