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Better Solutions for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
8 pages
This paper proposes a protocol for addressing the mental health needs of youth with problem behaviors that will avoid, in most cases, the negative effects of processing by the juvenile justice system.
The paper recommends that "whenever safe and appropriate, youth with mental health needs should be prevented from entering the juvenile justice system in the first place." In those cases when youth are referred to the juvenile justice system, a first option should be referral to appropriate mental health treatment in the community. The few youth who require a custodial setting should receive appropriate treatment services while confined, so they can re-enter their communities with needed supportive services. In arguing for the adoption of the aforementioned protocol, the paper notes the high percentage of youth in the juvenile justice system with mental health and substance abuse disorders, which often stem from exposure to traumatic experiences. In many cases, the behaviors that bring them into contact with the juvenile justice system are relatively minor, non-violent offenses. In arguing for a new approach to helping youth with mental health needs that lead to problem behaviors, the paper reviews new scientific breakthroughs that can help youth with mental health needs that come into contact with the juvenile justice system. In building on these advancements by applying the research to practice, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation launched Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice. This is a national juvenile justice initiative designed to develop effective and replicable reform models in selected States, with a view toward sharing and adapting successful programs for other jurisdictions across the country. The results of these efforts are described, and a listing of works cited is provided.