Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Modifying Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Incarcerated Female Youth: A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Modifying Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Incarcerated Female Youth: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

The prevalence of mental and emotional disturbance in the juvenile justice population is a persistent problem in the United States. Over the past decade, research has consistently indicated a significantly higher level of mental and emotional disturbance among youth involved in the juvenile justice system than among youth in the general population (Otto, Greenstein, Johnson, & Friedman, 1992; Cauffman, Feldman, Waterman, & Steiner, 1998; Loeber, Farrington, & Washburn, 1998;Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002; National Mental Health Association, 2004; Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006; and Sedlak & McPherson, 2010). Approximately 65 to 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system meet criteria for at least one mental health diagnosis, compared to 20 to 30% of adolescents in the general population. In addition, females in the juvenile justice system have even higher levels of psychological and emotional problems than their male counterparts. For example, Sedlak and McPherson (2010) found that females in custody reported 8 to 20% more problems with attention, hallucinations, anger, anxiety, depression/isolation, trauma, and suicidal thoughts or feelings than their male counterparts. The number of adolescent females being arrested and placed in secure correctional facilities in the United States is increasing despite the fact that the overall number of juveniles arrested for criminal offenses is declining (Cooney, Small, & O'Connor, 2008).

Unique biological, cultural, social, and psychological stressors combined with negative general life experiences have made females in the juvenile justice system especially vulnerable to specific crises once incarcerated. Females in the juvenile justice population often have a negative self-image, a history of poor and even violent relations with peers and family, and unhealthy or destructive interpersonal and romantic relationships (Chesney-Lind & Okamoto, 2001). Trauma and abuse are especially prevalent in this population, with 50 to 75% of delinquent females having a history of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse (Zahn, Day, Mihalic, &Tichavsky, 2009). With such high rates of trauma and abuse, girls entering the juvenile justice system are more likely than boys to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other internalizing emotional problems-such as depression, anxiety, negative self-image, affective dysrégulation, personality disorders, and parasuicidal behavior (McReynolds, Schwalbe, & Wasserman, 2010; Cooney et al., 2008; National Mental Health Association, 2004).

Historically, delinquent females have been treated by the juvenile justice and social science communities as a subset of their male counterparts (Chesney-Lind, Morash, & Stevens, 2008). The standard treatments-developed specifically for delinquent males-tend to focus on the acting-out and externalizing behavior that is typical of male juvenile offenders (i.e., assault, gunrelated offenses, etc.; Hoyt & Scherer, 1998). In their qualitative study of adolescents and staff in juvenile corrections facilities, Belknap, Holsinger, and Dunn (1997) found that incarcerated girls believed corrections facilities were systemically sexist, racist, and often made their problems worse. In addition, these researchers found staff attitudes ranged from being deeply passionate about addressing the needs of girls in the system to hatred of working with girls. Though adolescent females are being arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than ever before and have a higher prevalence of mental and emotional problems, only one evidence-based program has been developed specifically to treat the mental and emotional needs of this population (Zahn et al., 2009). While there is increasing evidence of the effectiveness of gender-specific programming at lower levels of the juvenile justice system, such interventions have not been widely applied in the correctional setting. …

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