Objective: Studies have suggested a high prevalence of mental health symptoms among youths in the juvenile justice system, with the highest prevalence among girls and whites compared to boys and other races. This multisite, archival study examined whether sex and race differences, when they exist, were consistent across U.S. juvenile justice programs.
Method: Data included scores on the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Version 2 (MAYSI-2) for 70,423 youths from 283 juvenile justice probation, detention, or corrections programs. A meta-analytic technique investigated the consistency of effect sizes for sex and race/ethnic differences across sites in self-reported mental health problems;
Results: Across sites, girls on average were 1.8 (95% confidence interval 0.98-1.10) to 2.4 (95% confidence interval 2.38-2.48) times as likely as boys to have clinical elevations on all applicable MAYSI-2 scales except the Alcohol/Drug Use scale. On the Alcohol/Drug Use scale, a sex effect existed but only among youngeryouths. Whites were more likely to have clinical elevations than blacks or Hispanics; but surprisingly disparities varied across mental health categories and varied considerably across sites.
Conclusion: At the aggregate level, 72% of girls and 63% of boys had a clinical elevation on at least one MAYSI-2 scale. Our meta-analytic technique indicated that the sex differences across sites were even larger than these numbers imply. Conversely and counter to existing evidence, race-related differences were generally small or nonexistent. Whites were more likely to have alcohol and drug problems and suicide ideation, but not more likely to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or thought disturbance than blacks or Hispanics.