Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Detained and Committed Youth: Examining Differences in Achievement, Mental Health Needs, and Special Education Status

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Detained and Committed Youth: Examining Differences in Achievement, Mental Health Needs, and Special Education Status

Article excerpt


Currently, there is limited research about the relationship between academic, mental health needs, and special education status among populations of incarcerated youth. Additionally, little is known about differences between special education and general education students, or about differences between detained and committed populations. This article reports the results of an investigation of the academic achievement, mental health history, and special education status of 555 detained and incarcerated boys in one mid-Atlantic state. Descriptive data and results from a logistic regression analysis are reported. We found that mean standard scores of participants on standardized achievement tests were one standard deviation below the population mean. We also found high rates of participants with disabilities, and high rates of participants reporting prior therapy and prior use of psychotropic medication. In addition, we found that student academic and mental health characteristics obtained through an intake screening protocol were predictive of special education status, but not of placement in detention or commitment settings. Finally, we found that African American students had a significantly higher risk of being committed than Caucasian students. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.


Special education service delivery rates in juvenile corrections settings are as high as seven times the rates in public school settings (Quinn, Rutherford, Leone, Osher, & Poirier, 2005). In addition, detained and committed (1) youth experience higher rates of academic underperformance, school failure, and identification of mental health needs than their peers in the community (Cocozza, 1992; Cocozza & Skowyra, 2000; Foley, 2001: Krezmien & Mulcahy, 2008). Researchers have identified high rates of mental health needs among incarcerated youth (Caufmann, 2004; Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002; Wasserman, Ko, & McReynolds, 2004), but they have not examined the academic abilities of these youth in the context of mental health needs and special education status.

Additionally, there is a dearth of research examining whether youth in detention facilities awaiting adjudication exhibit different characteristics from those placed in commitment facilities. Knowing more about the academic, mental health, and special education needs of youth in juvenile corrections facilities is critical to the planning, development, and delivery of effective special education and related services. Understanding differences between characteristics of youth in detention and commitment placements is also essential for allocation of resources for special education and related services to short-term and long-term facilities based upon documented needs.

Recently, investigators have used diagnostic instruments to identify specific psychiatric disorders among delinquent populations (Atkins et al., 1999; Cauffman, 2002; Duclos et al., 1998; Garland, Hough, McCabe, Yeh, Wood, & Aarons, 2001; Randall, Henggeler, Pickrel, & Brondino, 1999; Teplin et al., 2004). None of the studies however, determined if youth were eligible for services as disabled students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004) nor have they examined the relationship between mental health needs and academic achievement. The absence of information about special education eligibility is problematic because disability status under the IDEIA directly affects students' access to mental health care and can provide a statutory entitlement to mental services for students in public schools and in juvenile corrections settings (20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq.).

Current Knowledge about Detained and Committed Youth

Several researchers have examined the mental health symptomology of juvenile detainees. Teplin and her colleagues (2002) used the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC) with a sample of more than 1800 youth aged 10 to 18 in juvenile detention in Cook County, Illinois, and reported that approximately two thirds of the males met diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders. …

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