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Recently Arrested Adolescents are at High Risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Belenko, Steven PhD*; Dembo, Richard PhD; Weiland, Doris MA*; Rollie, Matthew MPH; Salvatore, Christopher MA*; Hanlon, Alexandra PhD*; Childs, Kristina MA

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: August 2008 - Volume 35 - Issue 8 - p 758-763
doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31816d1f94

Background: Adolescent offenders may be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). With previous research and interventions focused on incarcerated adolescents, data are needed on STD prevalence and risk factors among newly arrested youth released to the community, a far larger subgroup.

Methods: Participants were recruited from all arrested youth processed at the Hillsborough County, Florida Juvenile Assessment Center during the last half of 2006 (506 males, 442 females). Participants voluntarily providing urine samples for drug testing as part of standard protocol were also consented to having their specimens split and tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea, using an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplification test.

Results: STD prevalence was similar to those previously reported among incarcerated adolescents: 11.5% tested positive for chlamydia, 4.2% for gonorrhea, and 13.2% for either or both infections. Prevalence was significantly higher among females: 19.2% of females had either or both infections compared with 10.5% of males. Prevalence was higher for 17 to 18 year olds (15.2% of males, 25.5% of females), blacks, detained youths, drug users, and those engaged in sexual risk behaviors. Previous STD testing experience was limited.

Conclusions: The study indicated that a voluntary STD screening protocol is feasible for arrested youth entering the juvenile justice system, and these offenders are at high risk for STDs. Because most arrested youths are released back to the community, routine testing and treatment of recently arrested youths, and expanded access to risk reduction and prevention programs, can yield substantial public health benefits.

Adolescent arrestees tested and interviewed at a Florida Juvenile Assessment Center showed high prevalence of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and high rates of sexual risk behaviors and drug use.

From the *Departments of Criminal Justice and Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and †Department of Criminology and College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

Supported by Grant No. DA020346 (to S.B.) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The research results reported and the views expressed in the article do not necessarily imply any policy or research endorsement by the funding agency.

Correspondence: Steven Belenko, PhD, Department of Criminal Justice, Temple University, 5th Floor Gladfelter Hall, 1115 West Berks Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122. E-mail:

Received for publication December 3, 2007, and accepted February 11, 2008.

© Copyright 2008 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association