Better Integrating Behavioral Health, Juvenile Justice Systems Will Rescue More Kids

It is now well-known that youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system have high rates of mental health and substance abuse conditions — rates that far exceed those of the general youth population. A multisite studyconducted by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice reported that among youth involved in the juvenile justice system:

  • 70 percent met criteria for a mental health disorder
  • 40 percent met criteria for a substance use disorder
  • 90 percent had been exposed to one or more traumatic events (such as abuse, neglect or witnessing violence)

Youth who are arrested are two times as likely to not graduate from high school as their nonarrested peers, a rate that increases to four times if they are formally processed through the court system. Young people with disabilities, including mental health and substance use conditions, are among those at highest risk for suspension and expulsion, which can be a precursor to juvenile justice involvement. Children who come into contactwith the child welfare system are also at higher risk for subsequent juvenile justice involvement (so-called “crossover youth”).


[For more of this story, written by Jeffrey J. Vanderploeg, go to]