Mental health articles

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Mental health orientation of the juvenile judge

The mental health orientation of the juvenile judge has been researched in only one study. This study found that, in theory, juvenile judges seem to have a rather positive orientation towards mental health issues by stating, for example, that the mental health status of the juvenile offenders should affect their decision. However, in reality, no association could be found between positive mental health orientation and the judges’ decisions of whether to refer the juvenile offender to mental health treatment at the disposition hearing stage.

Breda suggested that historical trends within the juvenile justice system may explain this observed discrepancy. In moving away from the original mission of rehabilitation towards a system that needs to reach multiple goals such as punishment, rehabilitation, and protection, mental health decisions, particularly ambulant mental health treatment, may seem too lenient. In certain instances, punishment and protection may have superseded rehabilitation during the judge’s decision-making process. Therefore, special attention must be paid to the training of juvenile judges on mental health issues in order to enable them to develop a positive and information-based mental health orientation, which may facilitate the decision-making process of the juvenile judge regarding juvenile offenders with mental disorders.

In addition, since caregivers and juvenile offenders participate in the procedures of the juvenile court, the parents’ and juvenile offenders’ concerns regarding the stigma related to mental health treatment and mental disorder may cause judges to ignore clinical recommendations, even if they have a positive mental health orientation. Previous research showed that parents often fail to seek mental health services for their children due to concerns about being judged as a ‘poor’ parent and the stigma linked to mental health problems. Juvenile offenders themselves often resist a treatment referral as they fear being labelled ‘mentally disturbed’, in addition to their existing label of ‘juvenile offender’ .

Since only one study examined the mental health orientation of the juvenile judge, no firm conclusions on its association with the decision-making process can be made. However, existing research suggests that the attitudes and beliefs of the judge with regard to juvenile justice approaches may affect the decision. Thus, future research should further clarify the association between the mental health orientation of juvenile judges and their decision, while controlling for the legal factors, type of offence and prior record.

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