Justice-involved youth experience increased risk of exposure to childhood trauma and health risks. Little is known about the heterogeneity in trauma and health risk experiences among delinquent youth, especially across gender. The current study uses latent class analysis to examine typologies of self-reported exposure to trauma and health risks among a sample of juvenile offenders.
Participants: Data were collected in an innovative Health Coach service for youth entering a centralized intake, Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) in a southeastern U.S. city. Arrested juveniles in the service area of the JAC are taken to the JAC for processing; youths charged by the State Attorney’s Office but not arrested may also be processed at the JAC. At intake, each youth is assessed for risk and interviewed about her/his crime by JAC intake personnel, after which s/he is either released to parent custody or detained, depending on level of risk and offense. During the intake process, youths are approached by Health Coach service staff. In addition to collecting background and psychosocial information, urinalysis is performed for recent drug use, as well as rapid testing for HIV, and urine testing for other STDs. The service follows-up with youth and provides prompt linkage to treatment for youth who are drug-involved, test positive for HIV or other STDs, or screen high on an evidence-based depression inventory. Youth in the current study received Health Coach services between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. To avoid multiple counting of youth, initial JAC entry data were used in the analyses; over 80% had one entry; and 435 females and 1,198 males were included in the analyses. Participation was purely voluntary. The State’s Public Health law does not require youth 12 years and over to obtain parental consent for STD or HIV testing or treatment. Health Coach staff obtained youth consent prior to initiating services.
Results: Findings indicate the presence of three groups of trauma and health risk behaviors within the gender groups. Females: three subgroups demonstrated a linear trend in increasing prevalence of trauma and health risk. Males: three subgroups reflected a generally low-risk group, a group with high rates of marijuana use and risky sexual behaviors, and a group with high rates of depression, family problems, sexual assault victimization, and bullying. Analyses for covariates suggested racial differences for certain forms of trauma and health risks. The findings highlight gendered intervention strategies should be considered for justice-involved youth.


Dr. Dembo is Professor Criminology at the University of South Florida, and has published extensively in the fields of substance use, mental health, program evaluation, and health risk issues among at-risk youth. He was Principal Researcher on the Miami-Dade, National Demonstration Project, which transformed the front end of the juvenile justice system in that County. He has been PI or Co-PI of numerous NIH/NIDA grant projects. He is a member of several community committees, including serving as Chair of the JAC Advisory Committee. He has been a major party in the flow of millions of dollars in federal, state and local funds into the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay area for innovative research and service delivery projects addressing the needs of high risk youth, their families and their surrounding communities.