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Substance Abuse Drives Incarceration of Youth

Panel Sponsored by Chicago Media Workshop and Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Substance abuse among young people has become one of the main reasons for incarceration, advocates said Thursday.

“Cook County has committed over 70 percent of children on drug offense,” said Betsy Clarke, the founder and president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

Clarke was one of a number of advocates speaking to the media about violence, youth, justice and incarceration Thursday at Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. The event was sponsored by the Community Media Workshop.

Although other factors such as guns, lack of resources and jobs drive youth crime, many youth use drugs as a coping mechanism.

“Drug usage is very much connected to depression and anxiety,” said Jennifer Valles, associate director of Heartland Alliance Human Care. “Females who have experienced extreme violence and have no support systems turn to drugs to help cope with whatever situations that they are going through.”

According to the Office of Adolescent Health, in 2011, 23 percent of high school students had five or more drinks in a row within a couple of hours on at least one day, during the 30 days before the survey.

Thirty-six percent of high school students obtained the alcohol they drank by someone giving it to them (among students who currently drank alcohol, during the 30 days before the survey). Thirty-eight percent of high school students had used marijuana one or more times during their life.

Avoiding drug related criminal offenses is very critical for young people.

“People are being derived jobs and education because of their background history although they are trying to rehabilitate their lives,” said Anthony Lowery, the director of policy and advocacy for the Safer Foundation.

The use of alcohol and drugs by young people brings many risks:  personal, health, academic, safety, relationships and the risk of alcohol and drug addiction, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. One of the most significant risks is the connection between alcohol, drugs and crime.

“From our encounters, experience shows that 80 percent of both youth and adults are diagnosed with substance abuse,” said Arlene Mitchell of the Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center and Health Center. “You don’t realize that what you are doing is not normal because you’re surrounded by it every day.”


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