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Juvenile justice professionals seek better programs for juvenile offenders

According to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Louisiana incarcerates a higher percentage of young inmates with mental health needs than most other states. As the director of the institute, Debra DePrato, admits, "We don't do a very good job of keeping mentally ill kids out of the juvenile justice system."

In many cases, young offenders are sent to the courts purposely, in hopes that they will be ordered into services. In many of these cases, the first formal evaluation of a youth convicted of sex offenses, drug crimes, and other offenses, happens after they are already in the criminal system, as a result of a court order.

The study also found that 74 percent of young offenders who are incarcerated in Louisiana's detention and secure care facilities have some sort of mental health condition, a rate that is higher than other states. Many of the youths, as much as 37 percent, have disorders considered severe and debilitating. As much as 62 percent have multiple mental health disorders.

It is known that young offenders with mental health issues can be treated in the community much more successfully than sending them to detention facilities, and for less cost too. In the community, troubled youth with mental health challenges can receive therapy and medication management services, as well as other services. They can also avoid being incarcerated with dangerous, often predatory, offenders. This makes them less likely to return to the criminal justice system later on.

Juvenile justice professional are currently attempting to identify the right blend of programs to confine violent offenders while using lower cost treatment to direct less dangerous young people away from a criminal lifestyle. Funding is a concern, but the effort continues to come up with programs that deal with criminal behavior while recognizing the need to interject a more therapeutic model for youngsters to bring them out of a bad cycle.

Source: The Advocate, "Juvenile offenders studies," Mark Ballard, February 2, 2013

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