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Seven Common Characteristics of Juvenile Mental Health Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2013
4 pages

This report identifies seven common characteristics of juvenile mental health courts (JMHCs), based on a national survey, stakeholder interviews, participant focus groups, parent/guardian focus groups, stakeholder focus groups, observations of status hearings, and extensive interviews with current participants and their guardians.


One common characteristic of a JMHC is a regularly scheduled special docket. JMHCs are distinguished from regular juvenile courts in having a regular time and day of the week for status hearings and new cases. A second characteristic is a less formal style of interaction among court officials and participants. They resemble formal courts in having a judge/magistrate preside over the hearings, and the youth and his/her advocate or family member sit at the defense table; however, the judge usually engages the youth in informal conversations with praise for progress and admonitions for violations. A third characteristic of JMHCs is age-appropriate screening and assessment for trauma, substance use, and mental disorder. A fourth characteristic is team management of participant's treatment and supervision. A fifth characteristic is system-wide accountability enforced by the juvenile court. The focus of JMHCs is on the accountability of the juvenile participant in complying voluntarily with court conditions and to be held accountable for his/her behavior. A sixth characteristic is the use of graduated incentives and sanctions. JMHCs encourage prosocial activities that youth should normally be doing, such as attending school and engaging in family activities. This results in lessened supervision as an incentive for reaching program goals. The seventh characteristic is defined criteria for program success. Most JMHCs have program levels or phases with defined goals, such as weeks of sobriety, days of school attendance, and negative drug tests. 13 references

Date Published: August 1, 2013