Mental Health Needs of Juvenile and Young Offenders

Mental Health Needs of Juvenile and Young Offenders

  • Community-based and culturally-sensitive mental health services should be accessible to all youth and families in need. (there are a number of proposed bills aimed at improving community based and school based mental health services)
  • Young offenders with mental health problems should receive appropriate and adequate services in the juvenile court system. (H.R. 1873: Juvenile Justice Improvement Act of 2009 has been introduced to the 111th Congress (2009-2010)  and includes efforts to address this)
    • Families should never have to surrender innocent children to the juvenile court system just to get mental health treatment.  (The Keeping Families Together Act Aim H.R. 823 sought  to address this issue in 2005-2006, but never became law)

Epidemiology of Mental Health in Youth and Youth Offenders

In the General Population

  • In the U.S., 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment.
  • Fewer  than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds.
  • Every year, mental health disorders cost the United States more than $150 billion for treatment, social services, disability payments, lost productivity and premature mortality.

In the Juvenile Court System

  • Between 50 to 75% of incarcerated youth have diagnosable mental health problems.1
  • Youth suicides in juvenile detention and correctional facilities are more than 4 times greater than youth suicides in the general public.2
  • 2/3 of juvenile detention centers hold youth who are simply waiting for mental health treatment. In 33 states, youth with mental illness are held in juvenile detention centers without any charges filed against them.4
  • 1/4 of the juvenile detention centers holding youth waiting on mental health treatment provide no or poor quality mental health services.5
  • Incarcerated African American youth are less likely than their white peers to have previously received mental health services.6
  • Nearly 60% of female juvenile offenders had symptoms that were diagnosed as an Anxiety Disorder, as compared to 32% among boys.7

In Distressed Families

  • 36% of respondents to a national survey said their children were in the juvenile court system because mental health services outside of the system were unavailable to them.
  • 23% of respondents to a national survey were told that they would have to relinquish custody of their children to get needed mental health services.
  • 20% of respondents to a national survey said that they relinquished custody of their children to get needed mental health services.

In  Treatment Programs that are Effective

  • Recidivism rates are 25% lower for youth who receive structured, meaningful, and sensitive mental health treatment, compared to those in untreated control groups.
  • The most successful mental health programs are community-based and treat offenders and their families. These programs reduce recidivism up to 80%.
  • 2/3 of all dollars spent on the juvenile court system are used to house delinquent and mentally ill youth in costly lock-ups that provide little more than warehousing.

1 Handle With Care: Serving the Mental Health Needs of Young Offenders, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2000.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform—Minority Staff Special Investigation Division, Incarceration of Youth Who Are Waiting for Community Mental Health Services in the United States, July 2004.

5 Ibid.

6 Handle With Care: Serving the Mental Health Needs of Young Offenders,Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2000.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.