Are young offenders vulnerable?

It has been well established through studies and previous blog posts that young offenders are a vulnerable group within our society. This post explores the complex psychological and physical health needs experienced by our young offenders.

Studies have found that young offenders have higher rates of:
(Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004)

  • Significant ill-physical health and injuries
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases
  • Poisoning and respiratory problems
  • Substance and alcohol misuse
  • Mental health disorders (eg. affective and post traumatic stress disorder)

Additional research has found that health outcomes later in life for young offenders include an increased risk of:
(Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004)

  • Medical problems
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Tobacco or substance abuse
  • Poor self-reported health
  • Lower body mass index
  • Mental health problems and disorders (eg. depression)
  • Early parenthood

These studies show that health problems start in youth and worsen overtime. In particular, there are higher rates of mental health problems and disorders among young offenders that tend to continue into adulthood. Mental illness is described in the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008 as a “clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities” (Parliament of Australia 2019). Shocking data reveals:

  • Two-thirds of young offenders have at least one diagnosable mental health problem, compared to the general youth population were it stands at 9-22% (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 2017).
  • Youth in detention centres are 10 times more likely to suffer from psychosis than the general youth population (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 2017).
  • One in 6 offenders in detention centres reported to deliberately harm themselves within the previous 6 months (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
Figure 1: Juvenile offenders experience higher rates of mental health issues than youths in the general population.

Although the levels of mental health issues are higher among young offenders they often go undetected, which leads to inadequate support and treatment (Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004). It has been found that this vulnerable group generally do not self-report and as a consequence interactions with health services occur at times of crisis, rather than at a preventative level (Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004). The low levels of self-reporting can be linked to stigmatisation, as a study in juvenile detention centres found that the ‘macho-culture’ discouraged the expression of feelings and perpetuated the stereotype of being strong and withholding problems (Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004). The adolescents stated that this stigma prevented them from seeking help and shaped a negative view towards health services. Other contributors that were found included the young person not understanding ‘mental health’ and the importance of reporting (Anderson, Vostanis & Spencer 2004).

Overall, young offenders are a vulnerable group in society as they are more likely to experience a range of physical and psychological health problems. In particular, levels mental health issues are extremely high and often go untreated. Inadequate treatment of mental health has been linked to low self-reporting, which derives from their negative views of health services, the stigma of being ‘manly’, and finally, poor education about mental health issues.


Anderson, L., Vostanis, P. & Spencer, N. 2004. ‘Health needs of young offenders’, in Journal of Child Health Care, Vol 8(2) p. 149-164

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018. ‘National data on the health of justice involved young people: a feasibility study 2016-2017’, Australian Government Report, Cat. no JUV 125 Canberra: AIHW

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2017. ‘Intersection between Mental Health and the Juvenile Justice’, found online on the 19th of April 2019 online via []

Parliament of Australia, 2019. ‘Appendix 1 – Definitions of mental health and mental illness’, found online on the 19th of April 2019 via []

Figure 1: Daily News, 2016. ‘Exclusive: Queens state senator wants to simplify Miranda warning read to juveniles’, found online on the 19th of April 2019 via [

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