Exploring MAYSI-2 differences: African American and Caucasian male juvenile offenders


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Hundreds of thousands of juveniles with psychiatric disorders enter the juvenile justice system every year. The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument version 2 (MAYSI-2) is the mental health screening tool used in 47 states to identiy youth in juvenile justice with mental health problems. The racially loaded context of the juvenile justice system, combined with high level of unmet mental health need, necessitates mental health screening tools that accurately assess mental health disorders across racial groups. There is recent evidence, however, that racial and ethnic minority youth may be interpreting MAYSI-2 items differently than Caucasian youth. This dissertation uses mixed methods to explore factors that mediate race and impact the MAYSI-2. Seventy African American and 20 Caucasian male juvenile detainees, between the ages of 12 and 17, were administered the MAYSI-2 at their respective facility. All 90 participants engaged in a structured interview using questions compiled from four different instruments to assess the impact of race and the mediating variables on MAYSI-2 scores. In addition, 16 of the 90 participated in a qualitative cognitive interview focused on their interpretation of the MAYSI-2 purpose and items. The 22 MAYSI-2 items identified as problematic in prior research were explored. Results from the qualitative data analysis confirm that there are mediating factors that result in significant differences by race. MAYSI-2 scores were impacted by African American youth’s: greater experiences with discrimination, lower reading levels, higher social desirability, and less involvement in mental health services. The qualitative results indicated that there were some group differences in how youth interpreted the MAYSI-2 items, but not the MAYSI-2’s purpose. The interviews highlighted three areas for concern: whether complete or truthful information is being obtained for some questions, how some questions could be misinterpreted by youth, and the suspicion by some youth about the instrument. Overall, results show that race is mediated by various factors that must be considered during the administration and interpretation of the MAYSI-2.

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