International Meeting for Autism Research: The Prevalence of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders In the Juvenile Justice System

The Prevalence of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders In the Juvenile Justice System

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
3:00 PM
C. A. Cheely1, L. B. King2, E. J. Letourneau3, J. S. Nicholas2, J. Charles2, W. Jenner2 and L. A. Carpenter2, (1)Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, (2)Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, United States, (3)Family Services Research Center Medical University of South Carolina, CHARLESTON, SC

Past national surveys have estimated the prevalence of youth with disabilities in the state juvenile justice systems at approximately 33% (Quinn et al, 2005); however little research has specifically examined the frequency at which youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are in contact with law enforcement systems.  One study specifically examining pervasive developmental disorders in a forensic setting found a rate of 15% (Siponmaa et al, 2001), however this retrospective study focused primarily on violent offenders who had been referred for psychiatric evaluation as part of their court sentencing.  There is a need for prospective research on ASDs in forensic populations using up-to-date diagnostic methods and control groups.


(1) Using records linkage with the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), we will determine the rate of contact with DJJ by adolescents meeting criteria for ASDs from the South Carolina Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program (SC-ADDM).  (2) We will compare the types of offenses these adolescents are charged with to the overall SC-ADDM sample (n=609) and a randomly selected comparison group (n=99) of youth matched on age, sex, race, and county.  (3) We will compare the outcomes of these charges to determine if prosecution rates vary based on the presence of an ASD. 


Data for the present study came from SC-ADDM, which is one of fourteen sites collaborating with the CDC to conduct ASD surveillance in the United States.  For each of the study years, all 8-year-old children with an ASD in the study area (the Coastal and Pee Dee regions of SC) were identified through screening and records abstraction at multiple educational and clinical sites.  The de-identified data were linked with Department of Juvenile Justice data through the South Carolina Office of Research and Statistics. 


Of the youth identified in study years 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 (youth currently 12-18 years of age), thirty-one (5%) were charged with a total of 96 offenses (range 1-14).  Compared to the overall SC-ADDM sample, charged youth with ASD were significantly less likely to have comorbid intellectual disability (χ2 (1) = 10.35, p < 0.05).  When compared to the randomly selected control group, youth with ASD were significantly more likely to be charged for offenses that occurred at school (χ2 (1) = 32.51, p < 0.05).  Youth with ASD were also less likely to be prosecuted for offenses than the comparison group (χ2 (1) = 13.47, p < 0.05).         


No epidemiological studies have examined rates of contact between individuals with ASD and Juvenile Justice; thus this study is the first to examine the frequency, charges, and outcomes in youth with ASD.  These results suggest that not only are individuals with ASD represented with relative frequency in the juvenile justice system, but that they may be charged and prosecuted differently than the overall DJJ population.  Furthermore, as these data reflect only those adolescents who were ultimately charged for their offenses, it is likely that actual rates of contact with the legal system may be much higher in this population.

| More