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Assessing the Mental Health Status of Youth in Juvenile Justice Settings

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2004
8 pages
This bulletin presents findings from a study that used a computerized, self-administered “Voice” version of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC) to screen for psychiatric disorders in youth admitted to juvenile assessment centers in Illinois and New Jersey.
Mental health problems in youth may contribute to delinquent behavior and, in turn, interfere with efforts at rehabilitation for youth who become involved with the juvenile justice system. As such, it is imperative that the juvenile justice system accurately diagnose and treat youth who enter the system. Unfortunately, assessment practices and instruments utilized in juvenile justice settings are highly variable and have generally not been based on sound scientific knowledge. The study reported on in this bulletin evaluated the accuracy and the feasibility of using the Voice DISC to assess rates of psychiatric disorders in youth within the juvenile justice system. Several aspects of the Voice DISC make it an attractive choice for use within the juvenile justice system, including minimal staff support requirements, immediate scoring capability, and increased likelihood of disclosure. Local staff collected assessments for 94 randomly selected male youth in Illinois and 202 in New Jersey. Background information for all youth was also assessed, including demographic information and offense history. Findings were based on diagnostic criteria and did not consider the level of impairment. Rates of current mental health disorders were high among participants, as was expected. Especially high rates were discovered for substance use, conduct disorders, and mood and anxiety disorders. Comparisons of the current results were made with other similar studies. Two main findings provide support for the validity of the Voice DISC: (1) youth assessed as substance abusers by the Voice DISC had been incarcerated for substance offenses, and (2) the rate of suicide attempts reported to the Voice DISC was comparable to the rate of suicide attempts reported by juvenile detention facilities. The current findings underscore the prevalence of mental health disorders among youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Recommendations are made for juvenile justice mental health assessments, including the recommendation that multiple methods of evaluation be utilized and parental input considered. Tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2004