Exposure to the criminal legal system has significant effects on the health of young people, according to a January study by researchers from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
By examining existing public health literature, the study explored the role of the criminal legal system in the daily lives of young people in communities, homes and schools. Its findings show that exposure to the system within these three domains has disproportionate effects on marginalized youth, particularly those who identify as Black and Brown, LGBTQ+, economically disenfranchised, disabled, homeless or undocumented.
The authors’ analysis suggests a correlation between federal, state and local policy decisions and this disproportionate effect on marginalized young people.
“While this literature is growing rapidly, it is primarily focused on direct interactions with law enforcement officers and largely examines health implications among adults,” said Catherine Duarte, an epidemiology Ph.D. student and one of the study’s three authors, in an email. “Public health research has yet to deeply explore how systems and structures may shape these outcomes (for young people).”
The health outcomes observed by the research included a broad range of physical and mental health factors, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, injuries, birth outcomes and death rates.
In 2015, 57,375 years of life were lost to police violence nationwide, with another 54,754 years lost in 2016, according to the study. The study also noted that people of color made up 51.5% of the total years lost, with the “greatest burden borne” by young people of color, despite people of color only making up 38.5% of the population in 2015 and 2016.
The authors also considered the uneven distribution of time scarcity and the way this can prevent marginalized youth from having enough time to “pursue healthful lives.”
Duarte hopes the study’s analysis of policy decisions and recommendations for future research will encourage other studies to focus on policy and the ways in which it affects the health of young people.
“The criminal legal system is present in schools, communities, and homes, all spaces young people move through daily, and it operates at all levels, including the institutional level, with health-harming consequences,” Duarte said in the email. “We need to be thinking about this in our research and in our interventions.”