Mental Health in Juvenile Corrections

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Mental Health in Juvenile Corrections

Mental health is an integral component of corrections programs to assist youth in developing coping mechanisms and reintegration with their communities. The objective is to give juveniles a secure, encouraging atmosphere where they can become active participants instead of passive recipients of services.

More and more, the juvenile justice system is being held responsible for the mental health of youth involved in its programs. This includes youth with behavioral, emotional and learning disorders as well as delinquency needs. It is essential to recognize that juveniles are at risk for developing psychiatric illness and that their psychological issues contribute to their offending behaviors (Wasserman, Ko & McReynolds, 2004).

Studies have revealed a growing number of adolescents entering the juvenile justice system with serious and severe mental health conditions. This prevalence is far higher than what would be found among youth overall.

Juvenile mental disorders commonly encountered among adolescents include conduct or oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression and alcohol dependence disorders. Furthermore, adolescents who exhibit these traits may have an increased likelihood of developing other psychiatric conditions like psychotic disorders, eating disorders and anxiety issues.

These disorders have significant repercussions for juveniles themselves and those around them, leading to changes in behavior such as increased aggression, delinquency and self-injurious acts. Furthermore, these changes are associated with high rates of violent offending within juvenile justice settings as well as other social and medical problems (Underwood & Berenson, 2001).

According to a review of psychiatric diagnosis reports by juveniles in youth correctional facilities, approximately 29 percent of males and 84 percent of females had some form of mental health issue. A significant proportion were classified as psychotic disorders (Timmons-Mitchell et al., 1997).

Youth who have been convicted of serious offenses and are being held in detention centers or secure juvenile facilities may experience mood disorders during both pre-dispositional and post-dispositional stages. They may experience difficulty adjusting to their new environment or withdraw from interpersonal activities. These behaviors are usually accompanied by psychiatric symptoms such as depressed mood, psychosis, numbness and paranoia (Underwood & Berenson, 1997).

Anxiety disorders have been observed in juveniles who have been placed into residential treatment facilities for behavioral issues or who were incarcerated. This type of behavior is the result of psychological processes such as negative feelings and stressors triggered by their past and current situations, leading to difficulty focusing or becoming overly anxious and fearful of the environment.

Adolescent boys convicted of significant offenses who are held in youth custody or secure facilities for both pretrial and post-dispositional periods are more likely to experience this disorder due to their increased anxiety. They may exhibit angry outbursts and self-injurious behaviors as a result.

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