Mental health and Juvenile arrests: Criminality, criminalization, or compassion?'

Paul Hirschfield, Tina Maschi, Helene Raskin White, Leak Goldman Traub, Rolf Loeber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Juveniles in secure confinement allegedly suffer from more mental health problems than their peers. This may reflect background and behavioral characteristics commonly found in clients of both mental health and juvenile justice systems. Another explanation is that mental disorders increase the risk of arrest. These interpretations were tested on a sample of Pittsburgh boys (n = 736). Findings indicate that arrested. youth exhibit more attention deficit hyperactivity (ADH) problems, oppositional defiant (OD) problems, and nondeliquent externalizing symptoms prior to their first arrests compared to their never-arrested peers. However, arrested and nonarrested youth score similarly on prior affective and anxiety problems and internalizing symptoms. Net of delinquency, substance use, and other selection factors, internalizing problems lower the risk of subsequent arrest, whereas OD problems and nondelinquent externalizing symptoms increase it. ADH problems have no effect on arrest net of delinquency and substance use. These findings lend only partial support to the criminalization hypothesis. Whereas some mental health symptoms increase the risk of arrest, others elicit more cautious or compassionate official responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-630
Number of pages38
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


  • Adolescent males
  • Arrests
  • Child psychopathology
  • Criminalization
  • Juvenile justice
  • Mental health

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