Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Mental disorder of the juvenile offender

Evidence of an association between a mental disorder in the juvenile offender and a sentence of residential placement was found in three studies, which controlled for both the legal factors, type of offence and prior record..


All three studies found fairly strong associations where the presence of a mental disorder increases the probability of receiving a residential placement by two to three times and existed at two decision stages of the juvenile court—at the preliminary hearing nd disposition.


Among the studies that differentiated between different mental disorders, one study found a strong association between drug dependence and drug abuse and confinement, while the other found no such association.


One explanation for these contradictory findings may be that different variables were controlled for both type of offence and prior record, but Cauffman et al. only controlled for prior record. This difference may account for the difference in results.


Another possible explanation might be the distinction made between alcohol and illicit drugs in the study by Cauffman et al. The authors found that drug-related disorders are associated with a residential placement but not alcohol-related disorders. As Gebo did not distinguish between alcohol- and drug-related disorders, the possibly extant association between drug-related disorders and residential placement may have been obscured.


The association found by Cauffman et al. between drug-related disorders and the decision for residential placement was rather strong; they found that the probability of receiving a residential placement from the juvenile judge was 50% higher for drug abusers and two times higher for drug dependents. This strong association suggests that juvenile offenders with drug-related disorders are viewed as more dangerous and therefore more deserving of a residential placement, or that a residential placement is the only way of rehabilitating them. Alternatively, the presence of a drug-related disorder may signal the need for a harsher sentence according to the juvenile judges, leading to residential placements.


We can largely conclude that the presence of a mental disorder in the juvenile offender is strongly related to a residential placement ordered by the judge at two decision stages (preliminary hearing and disposition hearing). This may indicate that the juvenile court meets its primary goal, which is to apply custom-made decisions on the basis of the consideration of each juvenile offender’s distinctive rehabilitative needs. However, this can also signal the presence of a stigma related to mental health problems. International public opinion studies have shown that juvenile offenders with mental disorders are typically labelled as weak, dangerous, and socially incompetent, and individuals with these views were more likely to support involuntary residential placement. Another possible explanation for the strong association observed is that judges may believe that institutions are better equipped to rehabilitate juvenile offenders with mental disorders than the wider community.


Although an association between the presence of a mental disorder in a juvenile offender and the decision of the judge has been established, the relationships between specific types of mental disorders (internalising, externalising, and substance-related disorders) and the decision-making process remain unclear and warrant more research.

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