Innovation Brief: Juvenile Justice and Mental Health: A Collaborative Approach

Models for Change recently published an innovation brief, “Juvenile Justice and Mental Health: A Collaborative Approach,” [PDF download] that reports the benefits of a collaborative model for juvenile justice and mental health. Although teens with mental health problems used to be handled outside of the juvenile justice system, a shift in the 1990s placed “rehabilitation” responsibility to the juvenile justice system. From the report (emphasis mine):
High crime rates [in the 1990s] led to get-tough measures, including zero-tolerance policies in schools and criminalization of normal adolescent behaviors, that put more youths in the system. The closing of psychiatric hospitals, a trend that began in the 1970s, continued apace, while the community mental health system, initiated with such optimism in the 1960s, was being downsized. As a result, youths with mental health problems frequently ended up in the juvenile justice system, which could not refuse to serve them.
To better serve teens with mental health troubles, Models for Change recommends a framework for multi-system change, including (via the report):

Collaboration is essential in policy, programming, and planning for individual youths. CSCI brings to the table all relevant youth-serving agencies and families. The agencies may differ across jurisdictions, but should minimally include probation, corrections, behavioral health, child welfare, substance abuse, education, and victim advocacy.

Standardized screening and assessment tools are used at all decision-making points, from initial contact to reintegration, to identify youths with mental health needs.
Youths with mental health needs are directed to appropriate services. When possible, they are diverted from the justice system to community programs.
For youths who remain in the system, a continuum of evidence-based mental health services is coordinated with juvenile justice and continues through aftercare.
The full innovation brief is available free online, on the Models for Change website.

Updated: February 08 2018