Purpose: To examine the medical status and history of health care utilization of adolescents at the time of their admission to a juvenile detention facility.
Methods: Data were collected over an 18-month period on all detainees admitted for the first time to a juvenile detention facility in a major southeastern city in the United States. Information was gathered through a private, confidential interview completed by a medical social worker and a physical examination by a physician. Information was obtained regarding past medical history, complaints at the time of admission, health care utilization, and physical examination.
Results: Approximately 10% of teenagers admitted to a detention facility have a significant medical problem (excluding drug/alcohol abuse, or uncomplicated sexually transmitted diseases) that requires medical follow-up. The majority of these conditions were known to the adolescent at the time of admission. Only a third of adolescents admitted to the detention facility reported a regular source of medical care, and only about 20% reported having a private physician. A majority of all the detainees had already fallen behind in or dropped out of school. More than half of the families of the adolescents with a medical problem appeared to be unable or unwilling to assist in ensuring proper medical follow-up.
Conclusions: A significant percentage of adolescents entering a detention facility have a medical problem requiring health care services. Detention facilities offer an opportunity to deliver and coordinate medical care to high-risk adolescents. Programs linking public and private health care providers with the correctional care system may provide juveniles with an acceptable option for obtaining needed health care services.