Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Investigating Positive Psychology Approaches in Case Management and Residential Programming with Incarcerated Youth/ Enquête Sur Les Approches De Psychologie Positive Dans la Gestion De Cas et Les Programmes De Traitement En Résidence À L'intention Des Jeunes En Détention

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Investigating Positive Psychology Approaches in Case Management and Residential Programming with Incarcerated Youth/ Enquête Sur Les Approches De Psychologie Positive Dans la Gestion De Cas et Les Programmes De Traitement En Résidence À L'intention Des Jeunes En Détention

Article excerpt

The phenomenon of youth crime has generated a plethora of research in the areas of prevention, evaluation, treatment, and recidivism. Many youth between the ages of 16 and 18 have come into contact with the legal system, and some are incarcerated. Historically, the assumption has been that youth with externalizing disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, become incarcerated. However, research reveals that many incarcerated youth have comorbid emotional disorders (Fazel, Doll, & Langström, 2008; Osterlind, Koller, & Morris, 2007)- This is common in areas where few community mental health resources are available for treating complex behavioural and emotional challenges in youth (Office of the Ombudsman, 2008b). Secure custody facilities are often viewed as "last resorts" for youth with complex behavioural and emotional disorders, and the youth involved in the justice system tend to present with unmet emotional and physical needs (Maschi, Hatcher, Schwalbe, & Rosato, 2008). Residing in secure custody also detaches youth from family and community, which creates challenges to maintaining connection with positive supports (Bradshaw, Brown, & Hamilton, 2008).

Mental health programs in justice settings emphasize the identification of risk and need factors, and do so primarily through standardized assessment tools to evaluate the possibility of recidivism. Structured diagnostic screening and prescription of psychotropic medications are also common (Moses, 2008). Stemming from a deficit model of mental health, risk-need approaches focus on behavioural and emotional disorders as individual pathologies, and utilize interventions designed to reduce problem behaviours and alleviate negative symptoms (Morrison, Kirby, Losier, & Allain, 2009; Scales & Leffert, 2004). Although these assessment and treatment approaches are legitimate aspects of justice system protocol, current research suggests the risk-need approaches do not sufficiently address holistic aspects of the youth (Grisso, Vincent, & Seagrave, 2005; Laursen, 2000). They may also contribute to a distortion of the youth justice systems restorative vision, where rehabilitation has become secondary to detainment and punitive sanctions (Wasserman et al, 2003).

In Canada, the use of detainment and punishment in secure custody facilities for youth has been called into question. For example, in 2008, the New Brunswick Office of the Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate identified problems with the youth justice systems approaches to mental health care and residential programming after the suicide of Ashley Smith, a young woman whose complex behavioural and emotional needs led to her death in a secure custody facility at the age of 18 (Office of the Ombudsman, 2008a).

Youth in conflict with the law have also been found to experience challenges within the justice system in British Columbia (BC). In 2005, the McCreary Centre, a centre in BC committed to improving the health of youth, administered an adapted Adolescent Health Survey questionnaire, originally administered to 72,000 Grade 7-12 BC youth, residing in secure custody. The goal of this report was to gain insight into the lives of those youth residing in BCs secure custody facilities. A total of 1 37 youth participated at three different secure custody facilities in BC in both rural and urban cities: Burnaby, Victoria, and Prince George. Results indicated, these youth had fewer social supports than the BC youth in the larger survey who were not residing in secure custody facilities. They were, however, more likely to have (a) experienced severe behavioural and emotional challenges, (b) endured physical/sexual abuse, (c) attempted suicide, (d) used drugs and alcohol, (e) been expelled from school, and (f) had a parent involved in illegal activity, compared with BC youth not residing in secure custody facilities.

The report found that 72% of the youth in these facilities have been diagnosed with mental and physical health disorders. …

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