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Frequent police stops, parental incarceration and mental health: results among US non-Hispanic Black and White adolescent girls and boys


Background National monitoring of police–public contact does not extend below age 16 and few studies have examined associations with adolescent mental health.

Methods We describe the distribution of police stops in a nationally representative cross-sectional sample of adolescents ages 12 to 18 years in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement 2002 and 2007 (n=2557). We used survey-weighted race/ethnicity-stratified and gender-stratified regression models to examine associations between the frequency of police stops and both depressive symptoms and subjective well-being (emotional, psychological and social). We adjusted for several socioeconomic covariates and evaluated effect modification by parental incarceration.

Results We estimated that 9.58% of adolescents were stopped two or more times. Despite fewer police stops compared with boys, Black and White girls who were stopped at least two times in the last 6 months had higher average depression scores relative to girls who were not stopped (Black: 2.13 (95% CI: 0.73 to 3.53), White: 2.17 (95% CI: 1.07 to 3.27)) and these associations were stronger among girls whose parents had been incarcerated. Police stops were significantly associated with higher depressive scores for White, but not Black, boys (2+ vs 0 stops: White: 1.33 (95% CI: 0.31 to 2.36, Black: 0.53 (95% CI: –0.28 to 1.34)). Associations between subjective well-being and police stops were stronger among non-Hispanic Black relative to White girls, whereas for boys, associations varied across subjective well-being subscales.

Conclusion National monitoring data and public health research should examine adolescent police contact at younger ages stratified by both race/ethnicity and gender in order to better understand its relationship with adolescent mental health.

  • adolescents CG
  • depression
  • gender
  • inequalities
  • social epidemiology

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data from the PSID are publicly-available at However, certain variables are only available through restricted data access, see more at:

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