The U.S. incarcerates juveniles unequally and as a result, improvements have bypassed some of our children and youth. Youth from particular racial and ethnic backgrounds14 and youth with disabilities are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates.15 Prevalence studies have found that 65-70 percent of youth in the justice system meet the criteria for a disability,16 a rate that is more than three times higher than that of the general population. Additionally, at least 75 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced traumatic victimization,17 leaving them at-risk for mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress syndrome.The report presents a case study from California:
14 Disproportionate Minority Contact. 6 Nat’l Council of St. Legis. 1, 2 (2011). Available at http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cj/jjguidebook-DMC.pdf
15 Juvenile Justice and Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Fact Sheet, Act 4 Juvenile Justice, (August 2014) Available at: http://act4jj.org/sites/default/files/ckfinder/files/ACT4JJ%20Mental%20Health%20Fact%20Sheet%20August%202 014%20FINAL.pdf.http://act4jj.org/sites/default/files/ckfinder/files/ACT4JJ%20Mental%20Health%20Fact%20Shee t%20August%202014%20FINAL.pdf
16 Skowyra & Cocozza, Blueprint for Change: A Comprehensive Model for the Identification and Treatment of Youth with Mental Health Needs in Contact with the Juvenile Justice System, National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, (May, 2015); http://www.ncmhjj.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2007_Blueprint-for-ChangeFull-Report.pdf. Teplin, Linda A., et al., The Northwestern Juvenile Project: Overview 1-13 (2013). Available at http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/234522.pdf Better solutions for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System, The Mental Health and Juvenile Just. Collaborative for Change, 1 7 (2014). Available at: http://cfc.ncmhjj.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Whitepaper-Mental-Health-FINAL.pdf
17 Better solutions for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System, The Mental Health and Juvenile Just. Collaborative for Change, 1 7 (2014). Available at: http://cfc.ncmhjj.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/01/Whitepaper-Mental-Health-FINAL.pdf
A young man with autism received developmental disability services his entire life. On July 22, 2012, he had a behavioral episode during which he stabbed his stepfather. His stepfather was treated and released from the hospital the same night. The youth was seventeen and charged as an adult with attempted murder, but found not competent to stand trial. Later, the regional center pursued a commitment order to place him in a developmental center. The appointed public defender opposed the placement based on his strong ties to the community, his church, and family. The judge ordered the commitment, but did not allow placement at the developmental center and, instead, ordered the regional center to find and recommend a community placement. Meanwhile, when he turned 18 years old, he was transferred to a juvenile detention facility. The youth was housed in his own cell-block because, by law, he could not be around inmates under 18, and due to concern for his safety if housed in the adult facility.
The P&A, Disability Rights California, advocated on his behalf and he was ultimately released from custody and placed in a community home. This is an example of a larger systemic issue involving the power of regional center staff to determine placement of certain youth, which the P&A is also addressing.