Children and teens in the U.S. juvenile system report high rates of behaviors that put them at risk of HIV/AIDS, according to a survey released Wednesday. The study of juvenile detainees in Chicago found that nearly all had, at some point, put themselves at possible risk of contracting HIV -- most commonly through unprotected sex or getting tattoos with potentially dirty needles.
In the report, "HIV and AIDS Risk Behaviors in Juvenile Detainees: Implications for Public Health Policy," published in the American Journal of Public Health (2003;93(6):906-912), Dr. Linda A. Teplin, a legal health expert at Northwestern University, and colleagues call for corrections officials to do more to prevent the spread of HIV. "These kids may be too busy skipping school to learn about HIV, and they don't have much parental support in their lives. The best chance to educate these kids may actually be in prison," she said.
The researchers interviewed 800 young offenders in Chicago's Cook County Temporary Detention Center. Ninety-five percent of the juvenile detainees said they had at some point engaged in at least three behaviors that could put them at risk of HIV, and roughly two-thirds of them reported 10 or more behaviors that upped their chances of contracting the virus. While such risky behaviors like unprotected intercourse and getting a tattoo were more widespread among older teens, the younger ones were close behind. More than half of girls ages 10 to 13 said they were sexually active, and most admitted to using marijuana and alcohol -- which, Teplin said, could impair their judgment. Very few, however, reported having injected drugs or shared needles. And while many reported having sex while drunk or high, the majority said they had recently used protection.
Last year, close to a half-million juveniles spent time in jail, providing an important forum for education, according to Teplin. "We can target a lot of high-risk kids in detention centers," she said. "Intervening could have big pay-offs for the community."
Back to other CDC news for May 30, 2003