Blog: Adolescent Mental Health

The Crime Report's Person of the Year; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • The Crime Report's Person of the Year (
    A New York University law professor who persuaded the Supreme Court to extend its ban on mandatory sentences of life without parole (LWOP) for juveniles to young people convicted of murder—and thereby dramatically transformed the landscape of juvenile justice—is The Crime Report’s choice for Criminal Justice Person of the Year in 2012.
  • Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Recommendations Would Lock Up Fewer to Save Millions (
    Georgia should save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year by diverting some juveniles away from detention facilities and into community-based programs, according to a group tasked with reviewing the state’s criminal justice system. The state’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians recommends reversing some of the harsher policies of the 1990s on how Georgia punishes its youngest offenders.
  • Discussing Juvenile Justice with "Pure Politics" In Kentucky (
    Last month, Right On Crime’s Jeanette Moll traveled to Kentucky to present research on juvenile justice to stakeholders involved in reforming several aspects of the state juvenile system — including how it handles status offenders. A task force in Kentucky is studying the issue, and it is looking for lessons from Texas’s experience.
  • Department of Justice Enters into Agreement to Reform the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee (
    The Department of Justice announced that it has entered into a comprehensive memorandum of agreement with the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn., to resolve findings of serious and systemic failures in the juvenile court that violate children’s due process and equal protection rights.
  • Improving Juvenile Justice (
    Florida Department of Juvenile Justice officials and staff are traveling around the state to educate stakeholders and citizens on the reach of its new “Roadmap to System Excellence” plan. What the plan does is sets Florida on a new path in this endlessly fraught area of juvenile delinquency and its prevention. As president/CEO of the Florida Network, I stand with DJJ secretary Wansley Walters and this bold plan.
  • Harsher Discipline Often Dispensed to Minority, Disabled Students (
    Students of color and those with disabilities receive harsher punishment in schools, punishments that are often a precursor to their entry into the juvenile justice system, The Washington Post reports. Each year, more than 3 million children are expelled or suspended from schools, according to Civil Rights Data Collection figures released last spring by the Education Department. During analysis of 72,000 schools in the 2009-10 academic year, at least 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

[New Report] Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released its annual report on mental health, The 2011 Mental Health Findings Report (PDF download), with new insights about mental disorders of 12 through 17 year olds.
Estimates in the report include major depressive episodes (MDE), treatment for depression (among youths with MDE), and mental health service utilization. The report focuses mainly on trends between 2010 and 2011 and differences across population subgroups in 2011. Major findings from the report are included below.
Teens were mostly likely to seek mental health services for depression. Additional reasons are included in the chart below:

Experts Say Mental Health Effects of Hurricane Sandy Could be Powerful and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Court Reform Details Emerging (
    Shelby County, Tennessee, Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Larry Scroggs describes the court as being “sort of at the end of the beginning” in a review process by the U.S. Justice Department. And after this summer’s scathing report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division of the court’s due process practices, Scroggs told those at a public hearing this week that the plan for systemic changes at the court will likely be a three- to five-year process.
  • Juvenile Justice Judge Speaks to At-Risk Students about Staying in School (
    As students celebrate Red Ribbon Week, the Burke County Alternative School in Georgia invited juvenile justice judge Doug Flanagan to talk to them about the importance of staying in school. Judge Flanagan says this is one of the best schools in Burke County.
  • After the Violence, the Rest of Their Lives (The New York Times)
    At a time when the homicide rate in Chicago has risen sharply, jumping 25 percent over all since last year and 100 percent or more in a few gang-heavy neighborhoods, the research project offers a portrait of both the perpetrators and the victims in struggling, gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Troubled Teens Could Benefit from Online Access to Health Records and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Why So Many Hawaiian, Samoan And Filipino Youth In Justice System? (Honolulu Civil Beat)
    Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and mixed-race youth are disproportionately represented in Hawaii's juvenile justice system, a recent study concludes. The statewide analysis found that Hawaiian, Samoan and Filipino youth "fare worse than Caucasians at the stages of arrest," a pattern that continues as the young people move through detention, probation and protective services.
  • More Juvenile Offenders Put Through Diversion Programs, Less Locked Up (
    Fewer young people in New Jersey are being locked up for offenses they commit, so states a report issued Wednesday by Newak-based children’s advocacy group Advocates for Children of New Jersey. The “Kids Count Special Report: Juvenile Justice” states that last year, the state incarcerated nearly 7,000 fewer juveniles than it did prior to the start of an initiative to bring down the what ACNJ deemed to be over use of juvenile detention.
  • Minorities Prevalent in Juvenile Justice System (
    In Minnesota, juveniles who are minorities are three times as likely to be arrested than young people who are white. A report from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs compares rates of minority youth in the state's juvenile justice system to those of white youth. The report finds that youth of color are more than one and a half times more likely to be securely detained than white youth.
  • 'A Door to Anywhere': Juvenile Justice Center Aims to Get Kids on the Right Track (
    "When the juvenile court system started in Chicago 110 years ago, they realized that there's hope for children," Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel told an audience of 300 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for the new Yavapai County Juvenile Justice Center in Prescott.
  • Study Reveals Disparities in Juvenile Justice (New America Media)
    Youth-of-color are disparately represented at all stages of justice-system processing in Minnesota, according to a report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs. The OJP report compares rates of involvement of youth-of-color at key stages of Minnesota’s juvenile justice system to those of white youth.

Supporting Systems Change in Reclaiming Futures Communities

Reclaiming Futures has helped communities break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime for 10 years. But how exactly does Reclaiming Futures accomplish systems change? We sat down with National Executive Director Susan Richardson to learn about the model and benefits of becoming a Reclaiming Futures site.

Lori Howell (LH): What makes Reclaiming Futures successful in a variety of communities across the country?  
Susan J. Richardson (SJR): Reclaiming Futures offers powerful tools and resources to communities helping teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime. We work to improve drug, alcohol and mental health treatment and connect teens to positive activities and caring adults.
LH: That sounds like quite a feat! How do you accomplish this? 
SJR: Reclaiming Futures unites juvenile courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment, teen mental health treatment and the community to reclaim youth.

Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles? This Story and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Youth Crime's Decline (
    The new approach to juvenile crime hasn’t just worked. It has worked spectacularly. A report last Sunday by The News & Observer’s Thomasi McDonald said that the number of young people under 16 charged with violent crimes has dropped by nearly 37 percent. The arrests in that same age group for property crimes are down 40 percent.
  • Georgia Considers Juvenile Justice Reforms (The Augusta Chronicle)
    After overhauling its adult criminal justice system to provide alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders and reduce skyrocketing prison costs, the state of Georgia is turning its attention to the juvenile justice system.
  • DJJ Launches Roadmap to System Excellence (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice)
    The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) invited the people of Florida today to participate in a conversation about the Roadmap to System Excellence. The Roadmap builds on reforms already underway at DJJ and guides Florida on the path to becoming the national model for juvenile justice administration.
  • Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles? (
    When the National Partnership for Juvenile Services annual symposium opened in Las Vegas, Jason Bowser, a youth service director from Columbus, Ind., told an executive committee that one of the standing committees was focusing on the question of “What is a juvenile?”
  • Counties Push to Bypass State Youth Lockups (
    Counties in Texas might soon be allowed to incarcerate all their teenage lawbreakers locally rather than send them to state-run lockups that have been plagued by violence, high recidivism rates and gang activity in recent years, officials confirmed Wednesday.
  • Juvenile Justice and the Campaign (
    California's second largest county is coping with widespread gang violence and prescription drug abuse among youth. But as election day nears, juvenile justice remains a whisper in a monsoon of economic rhetoric.
  • [Opinion] Adolescents in Grown-Up Jails (The New York Times)
    The practice of confining young people to adult jails and prisons is both counterproductive and inhumane. Adolescents who are locked up with adults are more likely to be raped, battered or driven to suicide than young people who are handled through the juvenile justice system. After the trauma of doing hard, adult time, young people often return home as damaged individuals who are more likely to commit violent crimes and end up back inside.
  • Florida To Completely Privatize Juvenile Correctional Facilities (
    In an effort to reduce costs, Florida's state-run residential programs for juveniles will soon be completely privatized. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice announced Monday that the state will relinquish control of the five remaining public youth residential centers by October 2013.
  • Dog Trainer Teaches Empathy at Tehama Juvenile Hall (
    When dog trainer Gary Watts faces a group of kids detained in juvenile hall, he's focused on his mission. With a Labrador retriever named Abby in tow, he puts her through her paces and methodically demonstrates the fine points of canine obedience.

New Findings on Youth Brain Development and Decision Making

The National Juvenile Justice Network recently published new research exploring the significant differences in teens’ brains compared to adults’. The latest research, “Using Adolescent Brain Research to Inform Policy: A Guide for Juvenile Justice Advocates,” looks at specific areas of the brain and how they function when involved in particular activities and thinking. This has allowed researchers to learn a great deal about how teens and adults differ when using their brains.
Major findings from the report include:

  • Brain development takes place in stages and is not fully complete in adolescence. The frontal lobe, tasked with decision making, planning, judgement, expression of emotions and impulse control may not be fully mature until the mid-20s.
  • The limbic system, which helps to process and manage emotion, is also developing during adolescence. This causes adolescents to experience more mood swings and impulsive behavior than adults.
  • Levels of dopamine production shift during adolescence. As a result, activities that once were exciting to youth may not be so as they enter adolescence, and thus they may seek excitement through increasingly risky behavior.
  • When adolescents make choices involving risk, they do not engage the higher-thinking, decision-and reward areas of the brain as much as adults do. This can lead adolescents to actually overstate rewards without fully evaluating the long-term consequences or risks involved in a situation.

[OPINION] Florida is Poorly Equipped to Deal with Juveniles Accused of Murder and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • DJJ Offenders Meet Their Victims In New BARJ Program (
    Tuesday there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Department of Juvenile Justice's Broad River Road complex in South Carolina as officials announced the implementation of a program called Balanced and Restorative Justice, or BARJ. The program allows young offenders to collaborate with their parents, the victim and officers to come up with solutions to their crimes.
  • New Term for U.S. Supreme Court Prompts Reflection on Children's Rights (Juvenile Law Center)
    Since 1917, the first Monday in October has been the official opening day of the annual term of the United States Supreme Court. For the first time in many years, there are no cases currently set for review that raise large questions about children’s status under the Constitution. So … it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on how children and youth have fared in recent years.
  • Feds End Monitoring of Juvenile Justice Spending (
    The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice has satisfied federal auditors that it no longer requires intensive monitoring, members of the state agency’s board learned Thursday. The monitoring began last winter when officials from the U.S. Department of Education issued citations to the state agency for how it was handling $3.3 million in federal funds earmarked for schooling children in detention.
  • [OPINION] Florida is Poorly Equipped to Deal with Juveniles Accused of Murder (
    The twists and turns in the case of 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez show how ill-equipped Florida is to deal with juveniles in such cases. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Alabama case leaves the young man facing charges for murder for which there are no applicable penalties.

Middle Schools Add a Team Rule: Get a Drug Test and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Does the Juvenile Justice System Really Work? (
    A five-month-long investigation spearheaded by Ashley Luthern of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio examined the successes and tragedies produced as local courts, probation and schools struggle to address “disproportionate minority contact rates.”
  • Frequency Of Kids Sent To Detention Varies Widely (
    Juveniles in the Hartford, Connecticut judicial district who break the law are far more likely to be locked in a pre-trial detention center following arrests or referrals than juveniles from the state's other districts, an analysis of data from the judicial department shows.
  • 12 Investigates: Can Brain Injury Lead to Prison? (
    Are more kids ending up in jail because of a traumatic brain injury? A study underway of Virginia's Juvenile Justice system recently revealed as many as 20% of the children incarcerated right now have a traumatic brain injury.
  • Juvenile Justice System Youths Express Themselves in Play (
    Over the summer, a group of youths in the Clackamas County, Oregon juvenile justice system prepared a performance that was central to who they are. They received a standing ovation for their show, "Choices," and for their courage in telling their stories.

Study Pushes Early Identification Of Kids’ Mental Health Problems

Josue, 15, was born to a 12‐year‐old mother. Exposed to domestic violence and abuse, he struggled in school early on and received a special education evaluation in Grade 4 that found weaknesses in reading, math and writing.
By 13, he had been diagnosed with symptoms of bipolar disorder, depression, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Yet, he started high school with limited support services and ended up suspended from school and referred to the juvenile justice system.
His path through public school is not uncommon in Connecticut cities, according to a new report by the Center for Children’s Advocacy, a Connecticut nonprofit that provides legal support for abused and neglected children. The report, which examined school records of 102 youths referred to the Center, found that early warning signs of mental and behavioral health problems often went unheeded until the middle school years—when interventions came too late.

Introducing the “You Matter” Campaign for Young Adults in Emotional Distress or Suicidal Crisis

SAMHSA is proud to announce a new online campaign to promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, You Matter. The campaign focuses on the positive message that the lives of young adults matter, even as they face trying times or difficult problems.
Through a blog and social media, You Matter aims to build awareness and trust in the Lifeline among young adults by providing a safe, online space where they can connect with the Lifeline. The campaign showcases hopeful peer-to-peer messages and also supports friends of young adults who are in distress or crisis, providing them with resources to help. Ultimately, You Matter’s goal is to persuade young adults in emotional distress or suicidal crisis to contact the Lifeline for help by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chatting online.
You Matter includes a website with important information on Lifeline services, how to get help, and warning signs of emotional distress and suicide. The website includes a blog with posts about specific issues that many young adults deal with, such as losing a job or moving back home, and advice on how to deal with stress and life changes. The campaign already has an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Idaho Screening for Mental Health, Substance Abuse Problems in Juvenile Justice System

As many in the juvenile justice community sadly know, a focus on diagnosing and treating mental health and substance abuse problems in detained juveniles developed relatively late nationally. This is particularly true in the State of Idaho, which did not have systematic, routine mental health and substance abuse screening occurring in its 12 juvenile detention centers (JDCs) until 2008. Since the inception of the Clinical Services Program (CSP), a collaborative effort funded by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho has made dramatic strides in screening for mental health and substance abuse problems in juveniles entering its JDCs, and recommending and (and sometimes coordinating) treatment for these juveniles upon their return to their communities.
Starting in 2008, my colleagues and I at Boise State University’s Center for Health Policy have performed annual, multimodal assessments of the CSP. One of the main components of our evaluation has involved documenting the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems. What we’ve found is that juveniles entering Idaho’s JDCs should be considered to have at least one of these types of problems unless demonstrated otherwise; in other words, having a mental health or substance abuse problem, or both types of problems, is the rule rather than the exception to it.

Washington’s Struggles to Treat Mentally Ill Youth Reflective Of National Dilemma

Reports show many youth in Washington D.C. under the Medicaid umbrella are being left behind as their mental health disorders go untreated, leaving them at high risk for a run-in with the juvenile justice system.
In the nation’s capital, Medicaid covers at least 18,629 youth who are in need of mental health care treatment, according to the Justice Policy Institute. More than half are not receiving help, as stigma and an ineffective treatment system stand in the way of children receiving care, the group found.
But catching a problem early and treating it is crucial because children with untreated mental illnesses are at a higher risk for teenage pregnancy, poverty, poor performance in school, and none to intermittent employment. All of these factors weigh into the equation of children winding up in a justice system that research shows only worsens the cycle.
The problem, which is widespread in many urban areas including Chicago, is prevalent in D.C. because of the location of the RTCs – or residential treatment centers, which are sometimes hundreds of miles away – meaning parents can be separated from their children, with no visits, for months at a time, according to some experts.

The Importance of Addressing Mental Health Early

The impact of the tragedy in Colorado is felt across the Aurora community, the U.S. and the world. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, first responders, psychologists, specialized agencies and people with their own experience with severe trauma are affected. Regrettably, the large wave of people in need of help is yet to come. These tragic events act like rocks in a pond–rippling for miles and for a long time.
The circumstances surrounding the event are still under investigation, but as a clearer picture develops, some have begun framing the tragedy in terms of the debate over gun control. Others are simply calling for the person responsible for this terrible crime to be quickly brought to justice. Social services and mental health organizations are putting together relief efforts and resources for the victims of the shooting and providing crisis counseling to survivors. Among the valuable suggestions is ensuring people that their responses of fear, depression, anxiety, sadness that result in sleeplessness, weeping, anger, impatience, or sitting and staring are perfectly normal and expected.

Director Appointed to Office of Adolescent Health

Evelyn M. Kappeler was appointed Monday from "acting" to permanent Director of the Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health.
Ms. Kappeler was first appointed in 2010 by the Assistant Secretary for Health to build and lead -- in an acting capacity --the newly funded Office of Adolescent Health (OAH). She established the office and implemented its signature $110 million grant program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy through the replication of evidence-based program models and research and demonstration projects.
Ms. Kappeler convened the Health and Human Services-wide Adolescent Health Working Group, a first of its kind collaboration among the many agencies and offices with interest in ensuring the health of adolescents and young adults.
The group focuses on their shared interests in promoting healthy social, emotional and physical development during adolescence to help teens grow into productive, healthy adults and reaching adolescents who are most in need of integrated, coordinated services and care.

Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America

In partnership with several juvenile justice advocates around the country, Cathryn Crawford, a national expert in juvenile and criminal justice, has edited a new book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America" (IDEA 2012).
Through a combination of original and reprinted articles written by academics, lawyers, and advocates, “Promise Unfulfilled” addresses the problems with designing and implementing effective systems to deal with children in conflict with the law, and it describes various challenges children in the juvenile justice system face and offers suggestions for reform.
The authors include James Bell, Founder and Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who wrote on the over-incarceration of youth of color; Jacqueline Bullard, an appellate defender in Illinois, who wrote on best interest versus expressed interest representation of minors in delinquency court; and Neelum Arya (Barry Law, Campaign for Youth Justice) who wrote on state legislative victories from 2005-2010 in the area of removing youth from the adult criminal justice system. I have a chapter that is adapted from my article, Culture Clash: The Challenge of Lawyering Across Difference in Juvenile Court, 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 959 (2010). There are also chapters on the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing the mental health needs of juveniles, and best practices for working with girls in the delinquency system.

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: Are We Making Progress in Reducing Mental Health Disparities?

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. This gives us an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves: are we making progress in meeting the mental health needs of our diverse racial and ethnic populations across the country. In terms of disparities for these populations, have we improved access to care? Have we improved the quality of care? And, as a result, are we seeing better mental health outcomes in terms of promotion of mental health and appropriate treatment and recovery outcomes? The National Health Disparities Report, issued annually by the Department of Health and Humans Services (DHHS), shows that on selected access and quality indicators –including mental health measures – health care for minority populations has not improved and for poor populations has markedly worsened. A 2012 analysis of a dataset of 30,000 youth found that “disparities in use of mental health services persist for Black and Latino children” with 10% of white youth using mental health care compared to 4-5% of Black and Latino youth. Money spent for mental health care for white children increased; however for Latino children it decreased significantly. Suicide rates for American Indians in the 15-39 year old age range continue to be two to three times higher than other population groups. Suicide ideation and suicide rates continue to increase with age in the Asian American population.

Help from a Counselor Just a Text Away

National Safe Place created TXT 4 HELP Interactive, which allows youth to text live with a mental health professional, based on research that says youth seeking help for difficult situations are more likely to look for information electronically than in person. Any youth can text the word "SAFE" and the address of their current location to 69866 and receive the address for the closest Safe Place site and a contact number for the local youth shelter. This automated response will now also prompt users to reply with "2CHAT" to be connected immediately to a mental health professional.
Additional Resources

Teens with Mental Health Conditions More Likely to be Prescribed Long-Term Opioids for Chronic Pain

The Journal of Adolescent Health recently published a study in its June issue titled, Mental Health Disorders and Long-term Opioid Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Chronic Pain. This study concluded that adolescences and young adults with preexisting mental health conditions are 2.4 times more likely to be prescribed opioids over extended periods of time for chronic pain. The most common documented chronic pain complaints included back pain, neck pain, headache and arthritis or joint pain.

Researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington looked at 13 to 24 year-olds across the West, Midwest and Southwest United States to examine the association between long-term opioid use and mental health disorders. They found that older male youth who live in low-income communities with fewer residents who attended college, were even more likely to use opioids for extended periods.

Let's Give Kids Better Mental Health

“People are just not reaching us where we are at. We want to be reached.” – Washington, D.C. focus group youth participant.
The mental well-being of our youth is crucial to achieving progress and prosperity in our communities. In Washington, DC, youth face particular challenges as disparities in resources and risks vary drastically in just a matter of miles. I wrote JPI’s report, Mindful of the Consequences: Improving the Mental Health for DC’s Youth Benefits the District, to show that current prevention and treatment services do not match the level of need and many youth are at risk for contact with the justice system due to untreated mental problems. To illustrate this, I mapped where arrested youth are coming from: predominately areas of low income and high rates of risk factors that impact mental well-being.
The general attitude toward youth living in these areas (both with and without juvenile justice involvement) has been fear and blame. However, as I prepared to begin writing this report, I came across a few quotes gathered from a focus group with youth on the various challenges that come with growing up in D.C. These youth commented on what they needed…

“If they gave different programs to fit the criteria to why you were locked up, services that help you specifically, maybe even invest in psychologists.”
“Guidance and someone there they can look up to that is on the right path. Support other than tutoring, someone they can talk to sometimes if they have a problem.”