PHAT Life: Effective HIV intervention for youth in the criminal justice system

A group risk-reduction intervention that uses role-playing, videos, games, and skill-building exercises to promote knowledge about HIV/AIDS, positive coping, and problem-solving skills for high-risk teens in the juvenile justice system, showed great potential for reducing sexual risk-taking. The findings were published in Health Psychology and funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Annually, over 1 million youth are involved in the American juvenile justice system. They experience more mental illness, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted infections than their non-adjudicated peers. However, few evidence-based interventions exist to address these problems.

Led by Geri Donenberg, Ph.D.(link is external), University of Illinois, Chicago, a randomized trial called PHAT Life(link is external): Preventing HIV/AIDS Among Teens, was conducted with 310 urban youth, ages 13 to 17, on probation in Chicago’s Cook County, which has the second-largest county justice system in the United States.

The participant pool was 66 percent male and 90 percent African-American. Youth were assigned to either PHAT Life or an equally intensive health information program. Both programs consisted of eight sessions, each lasting 90 to 120 minutes, over the course of a two-week period, and were delivered at four detention-alternative after-school programs run by the Cook County Department of Juvenile Probation and Court Services.

The study measured the degree of condom use (“always” versus “less than always”) and number of sexual partners in the six months before and after the PHAT Life intervention. The teens completed a two-hour baseline assessment no more than one week before receiving the interventions and then again six months after baseline.

Among participants who reported the highest-risk sexual behavior…

To read the full article on NIH.gov, click here.