Blacks represent 37 percent of Chicago’s youth population, yet they accounted for more than 79 percent of the city’s juvenile arrests in 2013 and 2014, according to the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project.
As a native Chicagoan and social work researcher interested in the juvenile justice field, Henrika McCoy takes a personal interest in this substantial disproportionality.
“Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than be referred for mental health services,” Henrika explains. “Yet we know that many youth of color have been exposed to community violence, gang violence, or other traumatic events that can result in mental health issues requiring treatment.
Henrika focuses her research on looking at how mental health and juvenile delinquency conflate and create a pipeline for youth to enter the juvenile justice system, and how society could have intervened beforehand. Much of what she has found is inaccurate screening of mental health issues and a clear need for cross-sector communication and access to appropriate services.
In order to foster cross-sector collaboration, Henrika received a 2009 New Connections grant allowing her to examine the relationship between mental health issues and the juvenile justice system.
By probing the systems, patterns, and issues that lead to contact with the juvenile justice system, Henrika hopes to help youth experience better outcomes across the board, especially health outcomes.
“In Chicago, they’re closing mental health facilities and neighborhood schools — things that we know can promote positive mental health,” Henrika asserts.
Interested in continuing to do research that affects the Black community, Henrika has focused her more recent work on Black young men who are emerging adults. A new three-year, 1.5 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Justice is looking at identifying and understanding the violent victimization experiences of young Black men. Study findings will help the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes respond to victims of violence in other specialized groups, as well as inform Congress on the services and funding necessary to help crime victims recover.
“If we understand their experiences and give credence to them, maybe we can give young Black men hope, instead of perpetuating the criminalization of their experiences and behaviors,” Henrika states.
- Read about Henrika’s research on suicide ideation in juvenile arrestees as cited in UTSA Today.
- Read Henrika’s thoughts on how society can protect our children in this University of Illinois at Chicago blog post.
- Read her 2008 article on older youth leaving the foster care system — the only paper of its kind and still widely cited.