Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay

Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay

My personal research interest is the improvement of mental health care for juveniles within the justice system.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, 2019), a majority of the population within the juvenile justice system suffers from mental illness.  NAMI explains that most of these mental health disorders are not appropriately addressed and recidivism rates are high (NAMI, 2019).  Additional research data is indicated to determine the reasons for the system’s failure to assist in the treatment of these mental health disorders.  Research is also indicated in order to investigate potential solutions to this problem.  Juvenile delinquents with mental illness comprise an incredibly vulnerable population, and this population’s protection is a multifaceted challenge that advanced practice nurses may be able to help ensure. Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay

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Mental health care in the juvenile setting is an important issue with a substantial public health impact. According to a case study described by Burriss, Breland-Noble, Webster, and Soto (2011), an adolescent male suffering from bipolar disorder was repeatedly court ordered to be placed in a detention facility from which he continued to run away.  After approximately one year, during which the juvenile committed other crimes, his mental illness was diagnosed.  The adolescent began participating in a Juvenile Mental Health Court, where he was mandated to receive outpatient treatment and made great advances in his education and interpersonal relationships. This case study indicates that screening for mental health in juvenile detention settings is in need of improvement.  It is probable that the continued criminal activity of the subject in the case study was related to the impulsivity of the manic state of bipolar disorder.  Without a treatment for the disorder, behavior change is extremely difficult.  The case also indicates that traditional detention may not be as effective as outpatient court-based approaches for the rehabilitation of mentally ill juveniles.  Psychiatric nurses may be able to help with the creation and coordination of Juvenile Mental Health Courts (Burriss et al., 2011).  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2019), in the state of Florida, there is no Juvenile Mental Health Court.  Therefore, the expansion of Juvenile Mental Health Courts indicates a possible means for nurses to become involved in the improvement of mental health treatment in the juvenile justice system.

However, for many children and adolescents, rehabilitation involving an outpatient Juvenile Mental Health Court may not be possible, and they may spend significant time in traditional detention settings.  As I have observed in the clinical setting, children with mental illness benefit from empathetic interactions in a therapeutic milieu setting.  I have shadowed in the Summer Treatment Program at the Nova South Eastern University Center for Children and Families, a day treatment program designed for children with ADHD and other behavioral disorders.  Throughout the day, positive behavior is reinforced by empathetic staff members.  All staff members go through a rigorous training and are supervised by Masters level counselors or Clinical Psychologists. By the end of treatment, even the most disruptive children exhibit behavioral improvements from participating in this positive environment.  However, mentally ill children in a juvenile detention center are monitored by prison staff who lack training regarding mental illness.  Melnikov, Elyan-Antar, Schor, Kigli-Shemesh, and Kagan (2017) created a workshop designed to decrease the stigma of mental illness among prison staff.  This workshop was shown to be successful in decreasing the stigma of mental illness, leading to more positive interactions between staff and prisoners (Melnikov et al., 2017).  While this study was not conducted in a juvenile setting, it illuminates the potential positive impact of such a program.  According to NAMI (2019), children in detention centers are four times more likely to commit suicide than children outside of the justice system.  This statistic indicates that this vulnerable population is in great need of quality mental health care, and at a minimum requires empathetic staff members who will not worsen their conditions. Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay.

In addition to workshops that may improve prison staff perspectives regarding mental illness, other interventions may benefit incarcerated youth.  Winters and Beerbower (2017) describe mindfulness meditation as a possible therapy for these vulnerable individuals who have likely been exposed to trauma that may impact developmental processes.  Mindfulness is a potential means of preventing future participation in criminal activity and facilitating brain development (Winters & Beerbower, 2017).  Additional research is indicated to explore this potential for a simple, cost-effective intervention that could improve mental health treatment within juvenile detention facilities or in outpatient court coordinated mental health programs.

In conclusion, several children and adolescents within the justice system suffer from mental illness.  While in detention facilities, individuals with mental health disorders may go untreated or even undiagnosed, likely contributing to increased rates of suicide.  Furthermore, the cause of many criminal acts may be tied to mental health disorders, and to not offer appropriate treatment is to criminalize mental illness and criminalize those vulnerable populations who are unable to access mental health services.  Nurses and advanced practice nurses can research various interventions in order to make positive changes for this population.  For example, nurses can investigate and implement improved mental health screening processes in the justice system. Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay.  In addition, nurses can be involved in increased planning, research, and advocacy surrounding the use of Juvenile Mental Health Courts.  Advanced practice nurses can implement workshops for staff members to decrease stigma and increase understanding of mental health disorders, and they can initiate mindfulness treatment for incarcerated juveniles.

 

References

Burriss, F. A., Breland-Noble, A. M., Webster, J. L., & Soto, J. A. (2011). Juvenile mental health courts for adjudicated youth: role implications for child and adolescent psychiatric mental health nurses. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 24, 114-121. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6171.2011.00276.x

Melnikov, S., Elyan-Antar, T., Schor, R., Kigli-Shemesh, R., & Kagan, I. (2017). Nurses teaching prison officers: A workshop to reduce the stigmatization of prison inmates with mental illness. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 53, 251-258. doi: 10.1111/ppc.12165

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019). Juvenile justice. Retrieved August 30, 2019, from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Juvenile-Justice. Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Juvenile mental health treatment court locator. Retrieved August 30, 2019, from https://www.samhsa.gov/gains-center/mental-health-treatment-court-locator/juveniles.

Winters, D. E., & Beerbower, E. (2017). Mindfulness and meditation as an adjunctive treatment for adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system: Is repairing the brain and nervous system possible? Social Work in Health Care, 56:7, 615-635. doi: 10.1080/00981389.2017.1316341 Mental Health in the Juvenile Justice System Essay

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