Collaboration to address behavioral health needs in juvenile justice system

March 13, 2012
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SAMHSA and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are collaborating on a $1 million effort targeting the behavioral health needs of youth in contact with the juvenile justice system.  The project is aimed at diverting youth with behavioral health conditions from the juvenile justice system to community-based programs and services.

Most youth in contact with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental, substance use, or co-occurring disorder. Studies have found that 60 to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system met criteria for a mental disorder; more than 60 percent of these youth also met criteria for a substance use disorder.

Of those youth with mental and substance disorders, almost 30 percent experienced disorders so severe that their ability to function was highly impaired. Youth with these mental, substance use, and co-occurring disorders often end up unnecessarily in the juvenile justice system rather than getting the proper help they need – help that could vastly improve their prospects for attaining healthy, productive lives.

Under this initiative, up to eight states will be selected competitively to participate based on their commitment to improving policies and programs for these youth. This innovative collaborative effort integrates SAMHSA’s Policy Academy mechanism, which brings together state leadership teams to learn about effective interventions and the latest research, and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network strategy, which supports and links teams working on similar innovations in policy and practice. These combined resources will support state efforts to develop and implement policies and programs that divert youth away from the juvenile justice system early.

The initiative will emphasize:

  • Reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system;
  • Incorporating mental, substance use, and co-occurring screening and assessment practices throughout the juvenile justice system; and
  • Recognizing the important roles of evidence-based practice, treatment, and trauma-informed services.

"This innovative effort will help ensure that fewer at risk young people fall through the cracks and into an overburdened juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address their underlying behavioral health problems," said SAMHSA Administrator Pam Hyde. "This initiative focuses on helping divert these youth whenever possible to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better."

Technical assistance will be provided to the selected states throughout the duration of this initiative to guide the establishment of models and strategies for diverting youth with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders as early as possible from the juvenile justice system to appropriate community based behavioral health service.

“With the seamless integration of SAMHSA’s and MacArthur’s demonstrated strategies for effective training and technical assistance, we will promote broader diffusion and new adaptations of models of best practices to states committed to systems reform,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Juvenile Justice. “More effective diversion policies and programs will result in improved public safety, better youth and family outcomes, and save taxpayer money.  The states selected will have access to leading experts in the field and the latest research and information on front-end diversion policies and programs for youth with co-occurring disorders.”

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