Juvenile justice mental health services

Christopher R. Thomas, Joseph V. Penn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


As the second century of partnership begins, child psychiatry and juvenile justice face continuing challenges in meeting the mental health needs of delinquents. The modem juvenile justice system is marked by a significantly higher volume of cases, with increasingly complicated multiproblem youths and families with comorbid medical, psychiatric, substance abuse disorders, multiple family and psychosocial adversities, and shrinking community resources and alternatives to confinement. The family court is faced with shrinking financial resources to support court-ordered placement and treatment programs in efforts to treat and rehabilitate youths. The recognition of high rates of mental disorders for incarcerated youth has prompted several recommendations for improvement and calls for reform [56,57]. In their 2000 annual report, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice advocated increased access to mental health services that provide a continuum of care tailored to the specific problems of incarcerated youth [58]. The specific recommendations of the report for mental health providers include the need for wraparound services, improved planning and coordination between agencies, and further research. The Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has set three priorities in dealing with the mental health needs of delinquents: further research on the prevalence of mental illness among juvenile offenders, development of mental health screening assessment protocols, and improved mental health services [59]. Other programs have called for earlier detection and diversion of troubled youth from juvenile justice to mental health systems [31,56]. Most recently, many juvenile and family courts have developed innovative programs to address specific problems such as truancy or substance use and diversionary or alternative sentencing programs to deal with first-time or nonviolent delinquents. All youths who come in contact with the juvenile justice system should be screened and, when necessary, assessed for mental health and substance abuse disorders. The screening should occur at the youth's earliest point of contact with the juvenile justice system and should be available at all stages of juvenile justice processing. Whenever possible, youth with serious mental health disorders should be diverted from the juvenile justice system [58]. If delinquent youths do not receive the necessary evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation, they face the real prospect of further incarceration in adult correctional facilities. Improved screening and treatment require better interagency collaboration, established standards of care, and continuing research on the mental health needs of youth in the juvenile justice system. Better mental health care for youth in the juvenile justice system supports the goal of rehabilitation. Mental health professionals should support these efforts as the appropriate response to meet the challenges of the new century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-748
Number of pages18
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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