Young offenders internationally have a higher incidence of mental health problems compared with adolescents in the general population. Mental health issues, particularly comorbid presentations, affect the response to and outcome of rehabilitation and hence recidivism of offending. Most information on the mental health of young offenders has derived from studies of incarcerated young offenders, potentially a more disturbed sample of young people than the majority of young offenders who are placed on community orders. Our study investigated young offenders serving community-based orders (n = 800); the sample comprised almost 29% of the available population. Approximately 40% had at least one score in the severe range for psychopathology as assessed by the Adolescent Psychopathology Scale-Short Form (APS-SF) and 17% reported at least one comorbid condition. Twenty-six percent (26%) and 19% of young offenders scored in the severe range on the Substance Abuse and Conduct Disorder scales respectively and 8% scored in the severe range on both scales. Eighteen percent (18.5%; n = 145) had scores in the severe range for Substance Abuse and at least one other subscale (excluding Conduct Disorder); 10.8% (n = 85) had scores in the severe range for Conduct Disorder and at least one other subscale (excluding Substance Abuse); and 2.7% (n = 21) had scores in the severe range for at least two scales excluding Substance Abuse and Conduct Disorder. Young women reported between two and four times greater internalizing pathology and self-harm behavior than young men; however, young women were more characterized by externalizing disorders and anger than they were by depression or anxiety. Notwithstanding, high/very high levels of psychological distress were reported (25%) on the Kessler-10. This sample also reported high rates of child abuse and neglect on the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and these experiences were associated with more severe externalizing pathology. In the year prior to the study, 8% of the sample had considered suicide, 5% had attempted suicide and 16% had considered or attempted other forms of self-harm. Although as a group the sample revealed high levels of behavioral disturbance and high needs for treatment, a low number reported engagement in any treatment. Recommendations for early intervention as well as tertiary treatment programs are considered.
- Child abuse
- Conduct disorders and substance misuse
- Juvenile offenders
- Mental health