Juvenile justice and mental health: More than just a timeout


Lock them up, give them discipline and guidance then watch them turn out prime examples of society. Students in the juvenile justice system may need more than simple guidance, as some have mental and behavioral issues.

Does the punishment match the crime?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, explains 50 to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have symptoms of a mental disorder. The administration also adds 60 percent were struggling with a substance abuse disorder. SAMHSA conducted a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, The group found around five percent of the American population had a severe mental illness. SAMHSA describes a severe mental illness as a, “Behavioral disorder that results in serious functional impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.”

Every student misbehaves at one time or another and are usually punished for it. Students with mental, behavioral or substance abuse issues will not thrive without proper treatment. The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, or NCMHJJ, strives to raise awareness and work on, “Improving policies and programs for justice-involved youth with behavioral health disorders.” The juvenile justice system disciplines, but does not offer treatment beyond that.

When the child needs more than just a timeout

The difficult part for youth released from a facility, is re-adjusting to society when their actual issues are not addressed. The NCMHJJ reviews possible solutions for treatment of youth with behavioral issues. The behavioral and mental issues a student may have, need to be assessed before the juvenile justice system. NCMHJJ suggests, “Whenever safe and appropriate, youth with mental health needs should be prevented from entering the juvenile justice system in the first place.”

While there is a need for the juvenile justice system, not all children will respond well to it. “The more appropriate and effective response involves community-based treatment interventions that engage youth and their families,” NCMHJJ wisely states. In some cases, the youth may need to take some time away at a treatment facility for the mental illness and not just for past misdemeanors.

White River Academy is a new start for boys ages 12 to 17, struggling with behavioral, mental or substance abuse issues. The program instills character values and promotes positive growth, through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy and other methods, the boys will find their place in the world through treatment. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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