The judicial system created prisons to house criminals as they complete their prison terms after being sentenced and held responsible for criminal actions in court. When special interest groups are subject to the judicial system, particularly the prison division, correctional facilities are tailored to satisfy their demands. However, this has not been the case in the American penal system, as juveniles’ health, mainly their psychological well-being, is overlooked. The young offenders are classified as perpetrators under the age of adulthood and mentally disturbed defendants. On the contrary, those with substance addiction problems are also considered special groups in detention or jail since they require more attention and supervision. Furthermore, in some circumstances, these persons have unique requirements like therapy, while some may have mental health difficulties, which are both ignored. This study aims to take a stance regarding correctional systems’ lack of capability to handle adolescents’ psychological problems. The research will accomplish this objective by examining the available research on the issue and categorizing its findings based on relevant themes related to the topic at hand.
Juvenile mental health has posed a significant challenge to numerous correctional facilities in the United States. Generally, juvenile delinquents’ are addressed in the juvenile court, which requires that children’s rights be acknowledged during their trial, detention, and reintegration. Adolescent criminals in this situation are sent to particular juvenile detention institutions and adolescent correctional centers (Wallace & Wang, 2020). The government has to protect younger criminals from the crippling effects of incarceration. This need is supported by the conclusion that the objective of the juvenile courts is the punishment of offenders rather than rehabilitation. In contrast, young delinquents in litigation concerning adolescent waiver are housed in adult jails, where they tend to be managed and handled the same as grownups. This has influenced an uproar regarding the appropriate institutions for housing the mentally challenged perpetrators. Thus, despite the widespread awareness of the mental health challenges young delinquents face in the correctional system, the current efforts do not meet their needs.
This paper takes the position that the correctional system is not effectively equipped to handle the mental health challenges of juvenile offenders who tend to be especially vulnerable to negative life experiences, such as trauma and victimization. To provide a comprehensive commentary on the issue, a thorough assessment of various literature articles will be implemented. The research articles included in the literature review were published no later than five years ago and are from reputable peer-reviewed journals available in print and online formats.
Mentally ill individuals are typically housed in clinics and psychiatric hospitals. However, when people are detained and kept in isolation, there is a risk of them often being violent to other delinquents, which means that they may need proper monitoring and constant attention. To give them access to appropriate care and medical assistance, mentally ill individuals are sometimes kept in psychiatric institutions. Drug and alcohol-dependent people can also be housed in specialized institutions that have the means to provide access to diagnostic and cognitive treatment strategies for their rehabilitation (Kincaid & Sullivan, 2019). They are also kept in psychiatric hospitals, particularly if they have protracted drug use-related psychological problems. The situation with younger offenders is far more complex because this population has more opportunities for rehabilitation; however, they need many supportive resources and require attention to their mental health. This is a problem for the justice system in the country overall, which has focused primarily on detention instead of rehabilitation and support.
Mental Health Illness Among Juvenile Delinquents
The relationship between mental health issues and involvement with the juvenile justice system is complicated, and there is a lack of consensus regarding an existing correlation. While there is no direct link between mental health and offending among juveniles, the presence of some disorders does increase the risk of violent and criminal behaviors (Cashman & Thomas, 2017). Clements-Nolle and Waddington (2019) contend that juvenile offenders tend to have diagnosable psychiatric problems, particularly psychological health diseases. Commonly reported disorders among the target population include affective, psychotic, and anxiety disorders, as well as disruptive behavior disorders and substance abuse disorders. Moreover, research suggests that juvenile detention centers frequently house kids with learning difficulties and mental health issues (Hirschtritt et al., 2018). Notably, according to an organization named American Bar, 65 to 70 percent of children detained in juvenile detention facilities in the United States have a treatable psychological condition (Partrick, 2020). When younger delinquents get involved with the criminal justice system, they already require more support and attention to facilitate better rehabilitation and reoffending prevention.
Besides, there is evidence of racial disparities, with judges being more prone to subject juveniles of color to harsher punishments than their Caucasian counterparts (Hirschtritt et al., 2018). Stigmatization and profiling based on race create further psychological challenges for delinquents of color who may be subjected to bullying and discrimination when they are detained at correctional facilities (Hirschtritt et al., 2018). Furthermore, female criminals are more likely to experience sexual assault before committing a crime or being victimized by their fellow female inmates (Stemple et al., 2017). The combination of factors that negatively affect individuals’ psychological well-being creates a framework for the development of more severe mental health disorders.
The limitations that offenders experience when residing at correctional facilities can take a further toll on their mental health, especially in younger individuals who are more vulnerable to adverse environmental influences. Clements-Nolle & Waddington (2019) claims that the settings adolescents are subjected to in penal institutions subject them to significant psychiatric illnesses. According to Clements-Nolle and Waddington (2019), juvenile offenders are more likely to experience psychological issues than other youth because of the adverse impact of their environments. Due to their prior experiences as well as what they have to endure at correctional facilities, both male and female young people are becoming more and more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders (Beaudry et al., 2021). Therefore, it remains to be examined whether medical care systems at detention centers can handle this degree of psychiatric illness (Beaudry et al., 2021). Despite the general awareness of the issue, there is still limited response to addressing it, not only due to limited resources but also restricted testing on whether the available programs bring the desired outcomes.
The rising prevalence of mental health issues in juvenile delinquents has been connected to the problem of polyvictimization. According to Charak et al. (2019), a subset known as polyvictims, who have experienced several kinds of interpersonal and non-interpersonal conditions, are the significant majority of teenagers involved with the criminal justice system. In numerous studies of teenagers and adults using latent class analysis (LCA), polyvictimized clusters have been identified (Charak et al., 2019). The occurrence of polyvictimization has been recorded to impact the life of juveniles, particularly those with mental issues. In most cases, the issue has seen an increase in psychological patients due to biased treatments in correctional facilities and a lack of effective treatment programs (Kerig, 2018). According to Kerig (2018), authorities need to consider if gender distinctions in our models of adolescent court system participation are necessary, given the recent significant rise in the incarceration of girls. However, only single research on traumatic harassment has been undertaken with kids who have been implicated in the legal system.
Current Programs Aimed at Juvenile Deliquents’ Mental Health
The programs aimed at juvenile delinquents’ mental health may range on the basis of their approach, stakeholder involvement, and the core groups being targeted. For example, the Juvenile Justice Anger Management (JJAM) Program for Girls is an emotion control and violence management program created to meet the unique requirements of teenage girls in home youth justice centers (Goldstein et al., 2018). The efficacy of the program is measured by comparing the degrees of rage and violence amongst the females who underwent the JJAM treatment to those of the girls who underwent treatment as usual (TAU) at correctional institutions. Most young female offenders have backgrounds of neglect and abuse, which can lead to problems with mental health and substance misuse (Goldstein et al., 2018). Thus, the JJAM Program for Girls aims to address psychological health and substance misuse issues in the detention centers that are supported by harassment and trauma situations.
Another program aimed at juvenile delinquents’ mental health needs is the Special Needs Diversionary Progam (SNDP), aimed to provide intense supervision and treatment to ten to seventeen-year-old probationers showing inadequate conduct and diagnosed with mental health disorders. The aim of such a program is to rehabilitate younger people (regardless of gender) and prevent their mental health from causing them to get into trouble with the law in the future (Development Services Group, 2017). The program is quite comprehensive and offers mental health services for both groups and individuals, probation, parental education, and community support (Development Services Group, 2017). While the program has positive intentions, it has not been widely adopted because it requires many resources, including financial and human.
Numerous policies, practices, and projects have reportedly been shown to prevent behavioral health problems through proper scientific research. According to Fagan et al. (2019), these evidence-based interventions (EBIs) are rarely used in public institutions and have a negligible effect (Fagan et al., 2019). The Society for Prevention Research (SPR) created the Mapping Advances in Prevention Science (MAPS) IV Translation Research Task Force to tackle the problem and improve population-level community well-being and health. In five public structures, notably healthcare, child protection, schooling, youth justice, and health services, the task force examined strategies for advancing EBIs (Fagan et al., 2019). The program has not been adopted for enough time to determine whether its introduction into community services could prevent juvenile offending.
Programs’ Lack of Effectiveness
While there are evidence-based interventions aimed at the management of mental issues of juvenile prisoners, their implementation has not brought any tangible results. For example, a legislative investigation found that the absence of public psychological health care results in the incarceration of about 2,000 children daily (Partrick, 2020). Juvenile detention facilities imprison mentally ill children without charging them in 33 states (Partrick, 2020). Several correctional facilities say they house children younger than 12, and 117 say they house children younger than ten (Partrick, 2020). These findings suggest that the programs aimed at juvenile offenders’ rehabilitation and mental health do not bring the desired results, with outcomes worsening throughout American detention centers. The judicial system cannot sustain and provide adequate mental health care for criminal defendants (Bonfine et al., 2019). The rising incidence of readmission in the community results from flaws in the juvenile justice system.
When detained within the correctional system, younger delinquents lack possibilities for concept exploration, analysis, and reconstruction, all of which are essential for facilitating good mental health outcomes. Caregivers and institutions of rehabilitation are not well-equipped with the tools they need to help juvenile delinquents avoid adverse mental health outcomes and avoid reoffending after being released (Semenza & Grosholz, 2019). In essence, since children are limited to specific tasks and activities that subject them to illegal activity, interventions involving them must be more effective at broadening young people’s worldviews and supporting their healthy choices.
Correctional facilities lack comprehensive and systematic psychological well-being and mental initiatives to address the growing population with severe psychopathology and disablement. In contrast to other group provider contexts, evaluation metrics of mental disorders are not considered in the rehabilitative context. Convicts are not subject to a certain level of treatment consistent with the equality principle. Furthermore, the factors that should be considered to identify brain damage’s neuropsychological and cognitive effects and genuine concerns have been overlooked. For instance, the management and stakeholders do not have access to specific analytical methods and evaluation standards comprising basic and neuropsychiatric assessments.
In addition, many states find it challenging to allocate an appropriate budget and staffing resources to handle the problems of psychologically ill inmates. Authorities and managers overlook the disciplinary fairness process to determine how to point psychologically ill suspects and real criminals to various treatment options (Charak et al., 2019). In the past, the departments of corrections expressly oversaw the mental health and reparative care of alleged perpetrators using their staff and facilities. States are increasingly privatizing the mental health and rehabilitative programs owing to rising employee expenses, social insurance premiums, and a lack of skilled human services professionals to work in prisons (Charak et al., 2019). Ever since the deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities kickstarted, systems unrelated to addressing the psychological state of the population got overloaded with the problem despite lacking resources to do so.
The absence of forward-thinking restorative authorities with exclusions and rising litigation have equally been significant issues. The prison systems lack professional personnel to deal with cases of mental health amongst juveniles. Inadequate training facilities and programs have influenced this to create awareness amongst the judicial system and wardens on the impacts of psychological problems on the young perpetrators. Generally, the prison wardens are expected to identify ways to deal with such concerns despite having little knowledge in the field.
The absence of legal regulations is another factor that poses contests to the implementation of psychological treatments in juvenile correctional facilities. There is a challenge with how much these judicial systems implemented public regulations demanding or advising EBIs and allocated public monies for Evidence Base Treatments (EBIs). For instance, the scale-up facilitators across systems include the development EBIs that are scale-ready, general understanding of and assistance for EBIs, public outreach and potential to incorporate EBIs, administrative backing for EBIs, and proficient personnel capable of implementing EBIs, and information assessment and monitoring capability (Partrick, 2020). However, the execution of EBIs has been challenged by the lack of proper policies.
The mental health of juvenile delinquents has presented a significant challenge to the country’s criminal justice system because it requires a lot of resources aimed at addressing it. Younger individuals are more vulnerable to the influence of negative environmental factors and thus develop mental health issues more easily due to exposure to trauma or improper parenting practices. It has been found that juvenile offenders can suffer from anything ranging from general behavior problems to severe substance abuse disorder. Notably, stigmatization and profiling based on race during sentencing create adverse mental health outcomes for delinquents of color. In addition, polyvictimization, which represents multiple experiences with trauma and victimization, increases the likelihood of an adverse psychological state. Despite these findings, those working within rehabilitation institutions lack the tools necessary to help juvenile delinquents avoid adverse mental health outcomes and repeat future offenses. Due to the discriminatory treatment of inmates at correctional facilities, correctional officers may lack the desire to facilitate adequate mental health services for inmates.
Drawing from the findings of the literature review, it can be concluded that US correctional facilities lack the capabilities to treat and manage the psychological health issues of juveniles. According to the conclusions from the readings, given the disproportionately high incidence of sexual exploitation amongst girls in the legal system (Kincaid & Sullivan, 2019). It is emphasized that there are gaps in knowledge of the specific types of mental health problems that affect the progress of traumatized juveniles. According to the findings, additional emphasis is also required on gender disparities in the onset of risky conduct, the scheduling of mental health difficulties, trauma-related child crimes, and rehabilitation, which vary for boys and girls (Kincaid & Sullivan, 2019). In addition, investigations on psychophysical responsiveness aim to clarify the gender gap in vulnerability, tolerance, and stress reaction. Finally, the correctional facilities have failed to recognize how important it is to consider how psychological health, sexuality, and ethnicity connect.
Additionally, the factors found to be both enablers and impediments to African American Juveniles pursuing mental health services were multi-scalar (at the individual, affiliate, and communal levels) and morally engrained. This demonstrated that the African American youth’s use of services is a complicated, relational procedure, thus hindering their access to quality care (Semenza & Grosholz, 2019). The evaluated literature confirms the necessity of removing obstacles to psychological access to medical care and service utilization in a community whose need frequently exceeds actual treatment use.
Finally, the juvenile correctional facilities lack guidelines for handling mental illness and the precautions for managing such situations. Because of the lack of knowledge and training, the prison wardens usually treat all perpetrators equally, irrespective of their mental conditions (Partrick, 2020). This presents a risk to the juveniles as there have been cases of individuals suffering injuries from attacks by their cellmates. Therefore, these findings affirm that correctional facilities cannot handle the mental health concerns of juveniles.
Beaudry, G., Yu, R., Långström, N., & Fazel, S. (2021). An updated systematic review and meta-regression analysis: Mental disorders among adolescents in juvenile detention and correctional facilities. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 60(1), 46–60.
Bonfine, N., Wilson, A. B., & Munetz, M. R. (2019). Meeting the needs of justice-involved people with serious mental illness within community behavioral health systems. Psychiatric Services, 71(4), 355–363.
Cashman, E. L., & Thomas, S. D. (2016). Does mental illness impact the incidence of crime and victimisation among young people?. Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 24(1), 33–46.
Charak, R., Ford, J. D., Modrowski, C. A., & Kerig, P. K. (2019). Polyvictimization, emotion dysregulation, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, and behavioral health Problems among justice-involved youth: A latent class analysis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(2), 287–298.
Clements-Nolle, K., & Waddington, R. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences and psychologicaldistress in juvenile offenders: The protective influence of resilience and youth assets. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(1), 49–55.
Development Services Group. (2017). Intersection between mental health and the juvenile justice system. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Fagan, A. A., Bumbarger, B. K., Barth, R. P., Bradshaw, C. P., Cooper, B. R., Supplee, L. H., & Walker, D. K. (2019). Scaling up evidence-based interventions in US public systems to prevent behavioral health problems: Challenges and opportunities. Prevention Science, 20(8), 1147–1168.
Goldstein, N. E. S., Giallella, C. L., Haney-Caron, E., Peterson, L., Serico, J., Kemp, K., Romaine, C. R., Zelechoski, A. D., Holliday, S. B., Kalbeitzer, R., Kelley, S. M., Hinz, H., Sallee, M., Pennacchia, D., Prelic, A., Burkard, C., Grisso, T., Heilbrun, K., Núñez, A., … Lochman, J. (2018). Juvenile Justice Anger Management (JJAM) treatment for girls: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Services, 15(4), 386–397.
Hirschtritt, M. E., Dauria, E. F., Marshall, B. D. L., & Tolou-Shams, M. (2018). Sexual minority, justice-involved youth: A hidden population in need of integrated mental health, substance use, and sexual health services. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(4), 421–428.
Kerig, P. K. (2018). Polyvictimization and girls’ Involvement in the juvenile justice system: Investigating gender-differentiated patterns of risk, recidivism, and resilience. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(5), 789–809.
Kincaid, A. P., & Sullivan, A. L. (2019). Double jeopardy? Disproportionality in first juvenile court involvement by disability status. Exceptional Children, 85(4), 453–470.
Partrick, G. (2022). An overview of juvenile mental health courts.
Semenza, D. C., & Grosholz, J. M. (2019). Mental and physical health in prison: How co-occurring conditions influence inmate misconduct. Health & Justice, 7(1), 1.
Stemple, L., Flores, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2017). Sexual victimization perpetrated by women: Federal data reveal surprising prevalence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 302–311.
Wallace, D., & Wang, X. (2020). Does in-prison physical and mental health impact recidivism? SSM-Population Health, 11, 100569.