Press Releases and Media Advisories

Press Release

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For Immediate Release

New Report Calls for Better Mental Health Treatment for Juvenile Offenders


Report says justice system fails juveniles with mental illness


Contact: Susan Gluss, sgluss@law.berkeley.edu, 510.642.6936

Berkeley, CA-May 26, 2010... Young delinquents diagnosed with mental illness have been incarcerated at steadily higher rates in California's juvenile justice system for nearly a decade. Yet these young offenders rarely receive effective treatment for their mental health disorders. This failure is due in part to improper screening and diagnoses, inadequate access to mental health professionals or treatment facilities, and deep budget cuts.

A new report, Mental Health Issues in California's Juvenile Justice System takes a closer look at these issues, and offers recommendations to policymakers, local officials, and practitioners on concrete ways to reform the system. The report is a project of UC Berkeley School of Law's Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (BCCJ). The center convened a unique group of defense and prosecuting attorneys, police officers, academics, and advocates to participate in the project.

Barry Krisberg, a distinguished senior fellow at BCCJ and former head of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, says the juvenile justice system is not designed to provide adequate mental health treatment.

"Youth with mental health problems are a huge challenge. The juvenile justice system understands delinquency; but not treatment. Officers, advocates, and the courts need to work together to get these young offenders the help they need."

Santa Clara California Superior Court Judge Kurt Kumli, a project participant, says he's troubled by the growing number of young offenders locked up for delinquent behavior, but whose mental well-being is neglected.

"Unfortunately, when other social safety nets fail, young offenders with mental illness increasingly end up in the juvenile justice system. This can be devastating for young offenders who need proper evaluation and treatment, not a hard, cold lock-up."

Suggested reforms in the report include thorough mental health screening of young offenders, consistent diagnoses of mental health disorders, adoption of proven therapeutic programs, and collaboration among relevant government agencies.

The report makes a compelling argument for the expansion of community-based intensive family therapies for troubled youth. Studies find that these programs can effectively reduce criminal behavior, while saving on overall costs. Examples include:

* Functional Family Therapy (FFT): One-on-one therapy by a trained provider for a period of 8 to 30 hours. FFT cut re-arrests of participants by half, according to one randomized study.

* Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST): Sixty hours of professional interventions over four months with staff on call around-the-clock. Individuals who received MST were less than half as likely to be arrested for violent offenses, according to one multi-year study.

* Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC): Placement in specially trained foster families. Research suggests that MTFC cuts the average number of arrests for seriously delinquent juveniles in half.

Many juvenile offenders struggle with multiple issues in addition to mental health disorders, including learning disabilities, truancy, alcohol abuse, behavioral disorders, and physical ailments. The juvenile justice system, designed to protect public safety while holding juveniles accountable, is ill-prepared to treat these underlying problems. Given the state's limited resources, the report suggests expanding community-based and cognitive behavioral therapy programs by pooling resources among government agencies across county lines.

"The time is now for stakeholders to come together and take bold steps to create a system that meets the needs of its youth," said Krisberg.

The Mental Health Issues report is the first of three policy briefs funded by The California Endowment to address the critical issues facing the state's juvenile justice system.

Read a full copy of Mental Health Issues in California's Juvenile Justice System.

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law: For over a century, Berkeley Law has prepared lawyers to be skilled and ethical problem-solvers. The law school's curriculum-one of the most comprehensive and innovative in the nation offers its J.D. and advanced degree candidates a broad array of nearly 200 courses. Students collaborate with leading scholars and practitioners working on interdisciplinary issues at more than a dozen centers, institutes and clinical programs within its Boalt Hall complex. For more information, visit http://www.law.berkeley.edu/ and follow us on Twitter.

The Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice is a Berkeley Law research center whose mission is to enhance public safety and foster a fair and accountable justice system through research, analysis, and collaboration. The Mental Health Issues policy brief is the first in a series of three reports that examine California's juvenile justice system.