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Preschool to Prison to Death: Study Says Kids Charged With Crimes Die Young

Reported by Liku Zelleke

We have been hearing a lot about the preschool to prison pipe-line that affects many African American children, especially Black boys. Once a child is labeled as a “problem” and put in the legal system, it becomes an lifelong battle to keep him from staying in that system. 

Now, a study shows that juvenile offenders’ lives are already in danger well before they even reach their cell blocks: those that are transferred to adult court are three times more likely to die early than their peers in the general population.

“Any involvement with the criminal justice system increased the chance of mortality,” Matthew Aalsma, lead author of the study conducted by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University, told reporters.

He added that the more severe the punishment a juvenile offender faced, the higher the chance they would die early – usually, Aalsma note, by homicide.

The study was conducted using the electronic criminal justice records and health records of about 50,000 young offenders (between the ages of 10 and 18) in Marion County, Indiana, from 1999 – 2011, and discovering the direct link between their involvement in the justice system and their early deaths.

In the study, there were four categories of criminal justice involvements ranging [in seriousness] from arrest, detainment in a detention center (for an average of 2 weeks), incarceration and transfer to adult court.

The youth in the arrested category have the lowest mortality rates, but were still 1.5 times more likely to die early than those who had never been arrested before. The statistics get worse as one traverses the categories and is worst when it comes to youths transferred to adult court – who have their risk of dying young after being released increased by 75%.

These stats get even worse for black men: out of 518 individuals who died while the study was being done 56% were black and 84% were boys and men – with the chances highest for ages between 19 and 21 years old.

“Simply being involved in the criminal justice system changes how a youth sees himself, how a community sees itself. Each time you’re taken out of the community and put in detention, incarcerated, jailed, it loosens the social bonds. Think about a 16-year-old. He’s not going to school. If he was in therapy, he’s not going to therapy anymore,” Aalsma said.

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