Mental Health Concerns of Adjudicated Youths

By Cellini, Henry | Corrections Today, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Concerns of Adjudicated Youths


Cellini, Henry, Corrections Today


Juvenile crime has been declining since 1995. However, considering that the juvenile violent crime arrest rate increased more than 60 percent between 1988 and 1994, and that it only decreased 23 percent between 1994 and 1997, the violent crime rate still is much higher than it was in 1988.

Juvenile homicide arrest rates increased substantially between 1988 and 1993, but declined by 39 percent between 1993 and 1997, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's 1998 Annual Report. Though these trends are encouraging, public perception is that juvenile crime not only continues to be prevalent, but is one of the nation's greatest problems. In 1996, 58 percent (983,100) of the youths referred to juvenile courts were adjudicated as delinquent. Of these, 28 percent (235,000) were sent to residential placement -- an increase of 51 percent between 1987 and 1996 -- and 105,290 juveniles were committed by the court for placement, according to the report. Some of those placements resulted from the mental health and substance abuse needs of the juveniles involved.

Prevalence of Mental Disorders

Even with significant differences in research methodology and data collection instruments, researchers nationwide are finding high rates of mental disorders, substance abuse and multiple co-occurring diagnoses among youths incarcerated in juvenile facilities.

Based on these findings, youths in the juvenile justice system should be screened for mental health problems and provided with comprehensive evaluation and treatment services to address their mental health needs while detained. Such action would increase the likelihood of their successful transition into their communities, and perhaps reduce their involvement with the criminal justice system.

Mental Health Services

As stated earlier, it is estimated that a significant number of youths in the juvenile justice system have serious mental disorders. With little hard data and longitudinal studies available, current studies indicate that there tends to be a lack of screening, assessment and treatment options for children with mental health problems. Without treatment, these youths tend to continue their lives of offending throughout their adolescent years and well into their adult years. In addition, these youths seem to have higher rates of suicide and substance abuse problems. Recent studies have shown that as many as 60 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have been found to have mental health disorders, and as many as 20 percent have a severe disorder, according to the National Coalition for the Mentally Ill (www. …

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