Youth who spend time in juvenile facilities are an underserved population – especially when it comes to areas of well-being which are most critical for developing into a healthy adult. Balogun et al. surveyed 301 youth detained in the same juvenile detention center to determine the ways in which detention affects health outcomes related to mental illness, substance abuse, and sexual health. Three-quarters of the youth surveyed reported regular use of prohibited substances (e.g. alcohol, marijuana) while 47% reported experiencing some mental health symptom since their detention. Facility staff provided counseling on sexual health, condom use, and contraception, yet STIs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, and risky sexual behavior were common among detained youth.
Juvenile facilities provide an entry point and opportunity to reach youth and model positive health behaviors and practice. Unfortunately, many youth facilities fall short in this respect. Interaction with the juvenile justice system is often not a one-off experience and can span multiple years of a young person’s life. The sexual health of youth in state custody is not simply a box to check off on an intake form; youth for whom juvenile detention centers may be the first connection to sexual health care deserve complete and comprehensive information.