Adolescents, Mental Health and Juvenile Justice: A Prevalence Study

In collaboration with the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) and through support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the Center conducted the largest mental health prevalence study to date on youth involved with the juvenile justice system.

The primary goal of this research was to comprehensively examine the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders among youth involved with the juvenile justice system by collecting data from three previously understudied regions of the country and, within each region, from three different juvenile justice settings. Data were collected on over 1,400 youth from 29 different community-based programs, detention centers, and residential facilities in Louisiana, Texas, and Washington. In addition, girls and certain minority youth (Hispanics and Native Americans) were oversampled in an effort to improve the knowledge base regarding these understudied populations.

The results of the prevalence study confirmed that, regardless of the level of care or geographic region of the country, the majority of youth in the juvenile justice system meet criteria for at least one mental health diagnosis. Overall, 70.4 percent of youth were diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. For many of the youth in the study, their mental health status was complicated by the presence of more than one disorder—77.5 percent met criteria for at least one other mental health diagnosis and approximately 60 percent also met criteria for a substance use disorder.