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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Intersection Between Mental Health and the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2017
13 pages

This literature review focuses on the scope of mental health problems of at-risk and justice-involved youths, the impact of mental health on justice involvement, the impact of justice involvement on mental health, disparities in mental health treatment in the juvenile justice system, and evidence-based programs that have been scientifically shown to improve outcomes for youths with mental health issues.


In a section on "Defining Mental Health and Identifying Mental Health Needs," this report defines mental health; profiles the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition; and describes a variety of tools for identifying mental health needs. A section on "Scope of the Problem" notes that multiple studies have confirmed that a large proportion of youths in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Studies have suggested that about two-thirds of youth in detention or correctional settings have at least one diagnosable mental health problem compared to an estimated 9-22 percent of the general youth population. Mental health diagnoses of justice-involved youth commonly include behavior disorders, substance-use disorders, anxiety disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, and mood disorders. This review of the relevant research on this issue notes that despite the prevalence of mental health disorders among justice-involved youths, particularly for those processed further into the system, many do not receive the necessary services for their mental health needs. In addition, there are disparities in referrals for treatment, particularly regarding race and gender. In addressing this situation, there are several evidence-based programs that target youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system. They focus on reducing delinquency and related problem behaviors, addressing both criminogenic risk factors and mental health needs. 73 references

Date Published: July 1, 2017