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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Challenge of Mental Illness in the Juvenile Justice System

This article in the New York Times describes an overloaded juvenile justice system struggling with the issue of mental health services: "Mentally Ill Offenders Strain the Juvenile Justice System," by Solomon Moore.

As cash-starved states slash mental health programs in communities and schools, they are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders. About two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates — who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 — have at least one mental illness, according to surveys of youth prisons, and are more in need of therapy than punishment. ¶ 'We’re seeing more and more mentally ill kids who couldn’t find community programs that were intensive enough to treat them,' said Joseph Penn, a child psychiatrist at the Texas Youth Commission.
This is an issue we've been been dealing with for a few years in the Bronx. Since the beginning of 2007, Bronx Community Solutions has been coordinating the Juvenile Accountability Court, an intensive form of probation designed to prevent placement in detention by combining intensive supervision with enhanced services and increased judicial monitoring. One service that has been consistently identified as a major need is assessment and services for mental health issues (the other most serious needs, aside from drug counseling, anger management, and after school activities include help navigating the education system and family counseling and engagement).

For a period of time, the Juvenile Accountability Court benefited from a devoted source of funding that made it possible to contract for comprehensive mental health services. After that source of funding expired, we have attempted to connect our clients to the mental health services available in the Bronx at hospitals, community clinics, and private doctors, through Medicaid and other insurance coverage, but this has been very challenging.

Back in March the Health and Hospital Corporation, the large agency responsible for running a network of public hospitals as well as much of the health and mental health services available in the city's criminal justice system, announced budget cuts that included the closure of mental health programs such as Highbridge Health Center, a community health clinic; a mental health day-treatment program for 300 adults at Harlem Hospital Center; and another serving 80 adolescents at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center.

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