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Mental Health Concerns and Behavioural Problems in Young Offenders in the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Judicial Officers' Bulletin Volume: 26 Issue: 4 Dated: May 2014 Pages: 29-36
Dianna T. Kenny
Date Published
May 2014
8 pages
The feature article in this Bulletin presents an overview of the prevalence, characteristics, and treatment of mental health disorders in young offenders, and the Bulletin also reports on recent decisions by the Australian High Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The author prefers the term "mental health concerns" (MHC) with reference to juvenile offenders, since adolescence is a period of rapid physical, neurological, cognitive, and emotional development in which MHC may appear and mutate in a dynamic course. Australia's 2009 report on "Young People in Custody Health Survey" found that 87 percent of young offender in custody had at least one psychological condition, and 73 percent had two or more conditions. The MHC-related disorders of these youth are discussed as "externalizing disorders" and "internalizing disorders." Externalizing disorders include conduct disorder and other behavioral disorders, callous-unemotional traits, antisocial behavior, antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy. Internalizing disorders consist of all the mood, anxiety, and depressive disorders that may underlie externalizing disorders. Although the criminal justice system focuses on diversion for young offenders, there are few options that specifically address the needs of youth with MHC or learning disabilities. The issue of criminal responsibility for youth is a complex interaction among offending behavior and its multiple causes, including MHC and social disadvantage. Regarding treatment for young offenders, it should be located close to home; have a rehabilitative focus; and be evidence-based, risk-focused, and strengths-based. The Bulletin's section on recent court decisions addresses High Court decisions that pertain to sentencing and statutory interpretation. Court of Criminal Appeal decisions pertain to judges' directions to juries in murder trials regarding an alternative verdict of manslaughter; procedures for a majority jury verdict, the calculation of jury deliberation time, and offenses under the Weapons Prohibition Act of 1998. Education calendar, select legislation, judicial moves, and obituaries