Arrest May Increase Death Risk for Children, Young Adults

Hands in handcuffs behind barsChildren and young adults involved with the criminal justice system may be more likely to die prematurely than those in the general population. The risk increases as a person’s degree of involvement in the criminal justice system increases, according to recent findings from researchers with the Indiana University School of Medicine. The study results were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

How Criminal Justice Involvement May Increase Death Risk

The chances of being arrested before age 23 are 1 in 3. Forty-nine percent of African-American males are arrested by age 23.

For the study, researchers analyzed 518 deaths among children and young adults who had been incarcerated. The deaths all occurred between 1999 and 2011 in Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana. The study tracked outcomes for children and young adults five years following involvement in the criminal justice system.

Overall, children and young adults involved in the criminal justice system were 1.5 times more likely to die than their peers in the general population. But with each progressively more intense level of conflict, the death risk increased. Among those who were only arrested, the death rate was 90 out of 100,000. Children and young adults who were detained faced a death rate of 165 out of 100,000, and those who were incarcerated had a death rate of 216 out of 100,000. For children and young adults who were transferred to adult court, the death rate was highest of all, at 313 out of 100,000.

Causes and Risk Factors for Premature Death

Researchers did not look at individual factors, such as specific criminal justice system encounters or experiences. They did explore both causes of and risk factors for death. Of the 518 people they tracked, 48.2% were murdered. Overdose (14.7%) and suicide (11.7%) were also among causes of death. Causes classified as “other,” such as car accidents and drowning, accounted for 13.5% of deaths, with natural causes explaining the remaining 11.7%. The majority of deaths occurred among African-American males.

The study does not argue that arrest or incarceration directly cause a higher death rate. Instead, it establishes a correlation. Further research might help explain the relationship between criminal justice system involvement and higher death rates.


  1. Study: 49% black men, 38% white men arrested by age 23. (2014, January 8). Retrieved from
  2. Youth involvement in justice system linked to increased risk of early death. (2015, November 12). Retrieved from

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  • adam


    November 12th, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    Not only are the death rates for younger people higher they also have very high recidivism rates. How is continually arresting and jailing without ever rehabbing ever going to do anything to change that cycle?

  • c baron

    c baron

    November 16th, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    There is a criminal justice system for a reason and that reason is that we cannot allow criminals to control this world. So when they start acting out at a very young age, you would hope that they wouldn’t have to go through this system, but you know, what else are you supposed to do? I mean, they may be kids but they are doing very adult things and as such might have to be punished in that way.

  • Tolly


    November 17th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    It is all that circle that needs to be broken bu unfortunately too many families never find a way out of that grip.

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