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Frequent police stops, parental incarceration and mental health: results among US non-Hispanic Black and White adolescent girls and boys
  1. Jaquelyn L Jahn1,
  2. Madina Agenor2,3,
  3. Jarvis T Chen1,
  4. Nancy Krieger1
  1. 1Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Department of Community Health, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jaquelyn L Jahn, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA; jaquelyn_jahn{at}


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

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  • Contributors Jaquelyn Jahn: Conceptualisation, Methodology, Software, Formal analysis, Writing—Original Draft, Visualisation. Madina Agénor: Conceptualisation, Methodology, Writing—Review and Editing, Supervision. Jarvis Chen: Conceptualisation, Methodology, Writing—Review and Editing, Supervision. Nancy Krieger: Conceptualisation, Methodology, Resources, Writing—Review and Editing, Supervision.

  • Funding This research was partially funded by the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Harvard Longwood Campus Office of Human Research Administration and Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ Institute for Survey Research Institutional Review Boards approved all study protocols and use of restricted data.

  • 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:

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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