Magazine article Corrections Today

Addressing Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders

Magazine article Corrections Today

Addressing Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: The following is an edited reprint of a LegisBrief published by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in the August/September 2000 series.

At least 60 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have recognizable mental health problems, according to research, and as many as 20 percent are seriously mentally ill. These disorders include anxiety, mood and conduct disorders, psychotic disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Studies also indicate that 50 percent to 75 percent of juvenile delinquents suffer from both mental health disorders and substance abuse problems. A 1999 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that youths with emotional and behavioral problems are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

State Actions

Because youths with mental and emotional disorders often behave in ways that place them into the justice system, state laws are addressing mental health assessment and evaluation of these youths. In some states, assessment follows firearm possession or crimes. Washington requires a mental health evaluation in a juvenile or adult facility of a person between ages 12 and 21 who is arrested for firearm possession on school grounds or at a school function. The law allows release after examination and evaluation by a county-designated mental health professional. A California statute allows a treatment-based alternative to incarceration if a minor who used a firearm to commit a violent felony has a mental disorder that requires intensive treatment.

Maryland's law requires a comprehensive mental health or substance abuse assessment of a child who is the subject of a complaint if initial screening deems it necessary. Virginia requires drug screening and assessment of all juveniles who commit certain misdemeanors or felonies. Courts may order such assessments of other adjudicated juveniles and require youths to complete a program of treatment or education, similar to provisions for adult offenders also included in that law. Under North Carolina law, judges may conduct a hearing to determine whether a delinquent or undisciplined juvenile needs medical, psychiatric, psychological or other treatment and who should pay for it.

Other state laws require a review of mental health services for juveniles. The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Department of Health Services must develop an intergovernmental agreement to serve mentally ill youths who are committed to the Department of Juvenile Corrections. The agreement must designate specific procedures for providing services to committed youths and provide means for sharing funds, expertise and training opportunities. Florida requires the Department of Juvenile Justice to establish standards to ensure the quality of mental health services provided to juveniles with mental, nervous or emotional disorders who may be committed to intensive residential treatment programs. …

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