Monday, February 29, 2016

Mental Illness and Juvenile Offenders

Within the past decade, reliance on the juvenile justice system to meet the needs of juvenile offenders with mental health concerns has increased. Due to this tendency, research has been conducted on the effectiveness of various intervention and treatment programs/approaches with varied success. Recent literature suggests that because of interrelated problems involved for youth in the juvenile justice system with mental health issues, a dynamic system of care that extends beyond mere treatment within the juvenile justice system is the most promising. The authors provide a brief overview of the extent to which delinquency and mental illness co-occur; why treatment for these individuals requires a system of care; intervention models; and the juvenile justice systems role in providing mental health services to delinquent youth. Current and future advancements and implications for practitioners are provided.

The juvenile justice (detention, probation, youth corrections facilities, etc.) system is currently faced with the task of providing mental health assessments and treatment services for its youth, as there is greater reliance on the juvenile justice system to do so. According to Garascia (2005), the juvenile justice system was originally both a rehabilitative and preventative approach, emphasizing the needs and rights of children over the appeal to punish them [1]. In accordance with The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, the ultimate goal of juvenile justice was to divert youth from the formal, punitive processing of the adult justice system. This in turn resulted in the use of community-based programs rather than large institutions. The 1980s to the 1990s presented an interesting shift in the justice system’s treatment of juvenile offenders. Prior to the 1980s, juveniles were seen as rehabilitative; however, due to a short-lived surge in violent delinquency, protecting the community became the primary goal [2,3,4]. Consequently, the juvenile justice system developed an approach that uses a punishment/criminalization perspective over a rehabilitative/medicalization perspective [2,3,5]. Similar to the zero-tolerance attitude of the education system, in the early 1990s more than half of the states in the U.S. made revisions that allowed for juvenile offenders to be easily prosecuted in the adult criminal court and began to pass more punitive laws to address adolescent crime [2,6]. Although youth have committed violent and nonviolent crimes at a lower rate in the past few decades, Harms (2002) posits that the number of youth processed via the juvenile justice system has increased [7]. In 1960 approximately 1,100 delinquency cases were processed daily, while in 2009 juvenile courts handled about 4000 delinquency cases daily, and in 2013, approximately 2900 delinquency cases were processed daily [8]. The National Juvenile Justice Council (NJJC) estimates that the number of delinquency cases increased 30% between 1985 and 2009, however there was a 9% decrease between 1985 and 2013 [8]. More specifically, delinquency caseloads involving drug offenses, person offenses, and public order offenses increased, while property offense cases decreased between 1985 and 2013 [8]. The number of delinquency cases involving detention peaked in 2002, but decreased 44% through 2013 to the lowest level since 1985 [8]. According to the NJJC, despite the decrease in the volume of delinquency cases involving detention, the proportion of cases detained was larger in 2013 (21%) than in 1985 (19%).Between 1985 and 2013, the likelihood that a delinquency case would be handled informally (without petition for adjudication) decreased [8]. Although there was an intermediary increase, 31% of all delinquency cases resulted in either adjudication or waiver to criminal court in 2013, much similar to the 30% of all cases in 1985 [8]. It appears that some efforts have been made in the most recent years to decrease the number of youth cases processed in the juvenile justice system; however, this may be done by processing cases more informally or transferring cases to adult court

Full article at:

By:  Underwood LA1,2Washington A3,4.
  • 1School of Psychology and Counseling, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA 23464, USA.
  • 2Youth Development Institute, New York, NY 10013, USA.
  • 3School of Psychology and Counseling, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA 23464, USA.
  • 4Youth Development Institute, New York, NY 10013, USA. 
  •  2016 Feb 18;13(2). pii: E228. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13020228.

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