Exploring The Relationship Between Mental Health And Juvenile Justice Outcomes Among Serious Juvenile Offenders
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Type of WorkText
DepartmentPublic Health and Policy
ProgramDoctor of Public Health
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Mental health problems are a growing public health concern within the juvenile justice system. Between 52%-77% of all system involved youth are believed to have at least one diagnosable disorder. In addition, the number of offenders with disorders increases at every stage of system involvement. The current study sought to explore the relationship between the presence and duration of behavioral health problems (mental health/substance abuse) and juvenile system encounters (police contact and secure placement) among serious juvenile offenders. The research was conducted using data from Pathways to Desistance, a prospective longitudinal study gathered from 1152 serious juvenile offenders over a 72-month period. Behavioral health status was captured via the Composite International Diagnostic Index (CIDI) and measured as history of disorder at baseline and as change in status from baseline. Change was captured through four constructed behavioral profiles: non-developer, persister, emerger, desister. Outcomes measured were police encounter and secure placement. Multiple logistic regression was used to analyze the outcomes and control for potential confounding factors. Results suggest behavioral health status is a factor in system involvement as youth transition from adolescence to adulthood. Offenders who no longer met criteria for disorder resembled offenders who never had a behavioral health (BH) problem. Those whose problems persisted or developed later were at increased likelihood of future police encounter. Offenders with a behavioral health problem at any time point (BH Time1 or BH Time2) were more likely to spend time in secure placement. An exploration of baseline risk profiles showed persisters and desisters to have very similar risk exposures though they had differing patterns of system involvement. The timing and duration of behavioral health problems was differentially associated with system outcomes. Findings suggest that all system staff should be knowledgeable of disorders and trained in how to engage and manage these youth. Future research should examine behavioral health status as a dynamic variable, in order to better understand its relationship to youth development and interaction with the justice system. Further, it is recommended that the juvenile system adapt in order to effectively manage the high rates of mental health disorders among the population it serves.