Behavioral Health

On October 22, 2014, the Vera Institute of Justice convened its third juvenile justice briefing titled Meeting Their Needs: Identifying and Treating Youth with Behavior Health Disorders. This briefing is part of a larger Vera series, titled The State of Juvenile Justice: A National Conversation About Research, Results and Reform.

Watch a video of the event.

The panelists included Dr. Joseph Cocozza of the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, Sheriff Richard Stanek of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and Dr. Sarah Cusworth-Walker of the University of Washington. The panelists discussed the dynamics between the juvenile justice system and youth with mental and behavioral health disorders.

Dr. Cocozza began the panel by describing how the juvenile justice system is serving as the mental health provider for thousands of youth, while not resulting in greater community safety nor better outcomes for the community. He supports opportunities for the juvenile justice system to better identify, divert, and treat these youth and simultaneously improve the system’s ability to better meet their needs.

Sheriff Stanek continued the presentation by discussing how preexisting mental health conditions for individuals are only exacerbated by the conditions of jail. He discussed how the justice system will inevitably encounter individuals with these conditions; the question is whether they will interact with them on the front end, in schools and family life, or on the back end when they are already in the system. Stanek suggested that that justice system should make an investment with such individuals on the front end of the justice spectrum, adding that the individuals should be diverted at this point for treatment.

Lastly, Dr. Cusworth-Walker discussed several sets of data regarding evidence-based programs specifically tailored to handle youth with behavioral health disorders in the juvenile justice system. Dr. Cusworth-Walker maintained that governments need to invest in such research and evidence-based programs for juveniles. She added that the programs must be implemented with good quality assurance, supervision, and monitoring; and that program engagement and effectiveness is likely to be heightened with cultural and localized enhancements. Dr. Cusworth-Walker concluded by stating that juvenile justice system costs and recidivism will be further reduced when the mental health and child welfare systems also invest in evidence-based programs.