Partnering with Community Mental Health Services Aids Juvenile Justice System

A youth diagnosed with bipolar disorder and accused of breaking and entering approaches the court. The judge faces a choice: place him in underfunded mental health care in the community, where he may not receive the treatment he needs, or put him in the juvenile justice system, where he may be adversely affected by the criminality surrounding him. The New York Times recently profiled one such youth, Daniel, who has been in juvenile detention for two years because authorities felt he would receive better treatment there than in his home in Ohio. The Future of Children examined this topic in a recent volume on Juvenile Justice. The volume’s article on mental health found that youth would benefit from better evaluation of mental disorders and from more cooperation between mental health and correctional agencies.
Currently, many systems operate independently to help at-risk youth. Juvenile justice, mental health, education, and child protection institutions all treat youth separately, despite these issues’ interconnectedness. For instance, half to two-thirds of children in juvenile justice custody meet criteria for mental disorders – two-thirds of these for at least two disorders. Both institutional limitations and a lack of standards prevent court authorities from determining which youth would benefit most from community-based treatment, which might be harmed from exposure to prisons, and which pose safety risks to society that necessitate their isolation. This leaves the juvenile justice system to handle many youth who might respond better to mental health treatment outside of detention.
Mitigation of these issues begins with evaluating and sorting criminally detained youth using evidence-based methods that have recently become available. Those deemed not to be dangerous but who have long-term mental health needs, particularly those charged with lesser crimes, should be directed to proven community-based treatment programs. Not only have some of these programs been shown to help improve mental health, but they also reduce recidivism and anti-social behaviors. Youth with mental health disorders that are sentenced to detention should also receive better mental health treatment. Detention centers can partner with community groups to bring professionals into detention centers and offer specialized services to youth with severe difficulties.
Everyone benefits from collaboration between juvenile justice facilities and community mental health programs: courts can direct youth to appropriate services, the community is safer as recidivism declines, and troubled youth receive the treatment they need in order to adjust to a healthful lifestyle.

5 thoughts on “Partnering with Community Mental Health Services Aids Juvenile Justice System

  1. Residential Treatment

    It has been and still been a help to most parents that community base-treatment programs is one thing that could help juvenile offenders and even troubled teens. This is one way of showing how teens are valued and not to treat as criminals regarding with their disorder or behavior maybe.

    Charm Stevenson
    Residential Treatment

  2. Jason Tenner

    As in many walks of life including business, conducting a joined up approach to what is a large and cumbersome system is really the only way to draw expertise and knowledge together. We have seen many mistakes occur in circumstances where health care agencies have not connected information pertaining to an individual who later goes onto commit further crimes. By the introduction of systems such as this it only serves to bring about better and more valuable services to young offenders, which least we not forget is provided to benefit them and ultimately to re educate and bring about a change for the better of society as a whole.

  3. Sid Gardner

    “Proven community-based treatment programs” are definitely a better alternative than detention. But our assessments of residential and community-based treatment programs are very limited, and tend to review these programs through a mental health lens that neglects issues of prenatal substance exposure, abandonment issues for adopted children, and the need for individualized treatment that goes beyond point and level systems to different ways of teaching adolescents to self-regulate their anger and frustration. Raising the quality of these programs is a critical prerequisite to assuming they will make a difference.

  4. David Dooley

    If we don’t focus on preventing young people from becoming bipolar in the first place we might as well give up.

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