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Juvenile justice concentrates on rehabilitative work rather than on punishment measures. Conforming to the rules and aims of juvenile justice presents many challenges to agencies that operate in juvenile system. There are issues concerned with court officials’ attitude and understanding of disadvantage that play an important role in juvenile justice (Rodriguez, 2012). The major concerns faced by juvenile agencies are mental health status of juveniles, difficulties with youth charged with status offences, and management of policies for youth concerned in both child welfare systems and juvenile justice.
Juveniles and Mental Health Issues
In recent years, the rates of juvenile crimes have decreased (Espinosa, Sorensen, & Lopez, 2013). However, they are still rather alarming. One of the possible reasons why many children and adolescents get engaged in criminal behavior is that young people are subject to mental health issues (Espinosa et al., 2013). As research results indicate, mental health problems may be a cause of out-of-risk placement for juvenile delinquents.
In their research, Liebenberg and Ungar (2014) investigate the risk levels for mental health problems in two groups of youth: one sampled from justice service, and another one sampled from mental health services. As a result of the study, researchers conclude that both groups have equal risk levels for mental disorders. However, the authors also note that levels of engagement in these two groups are different (Liebenberg & Ungar, 2014).
Young people who are engaged prevalently with justice services experience a smaller degree of engagement with mental health services. Therefore, a possible way of meeting this challenge is a mental health intervention that might distract young people from the engagement in delinquent behavior.
While mental health issues present a serious challenge by themselves, their combination with other adverse factors may lead to even more dramatic outcomes. For instance, the problem of neglect is rather closely related to the development of mental health difficulties (Ryan, Williams, & Courtney, 2013). According to research, adolescents who suffer from neglect are more exposed to substance abuse and mental health problems than their peers who not experience the lack of attention and care.
The Prevalence of Status Offenses in the Youth Justice Systems
Another problem faced by juvenile justice agencies is the persistence of so-called “status offenses” youngsters. This group consists of adolescents who break the law while being under eighteen years old, and thus, cannot be punished for their misbehavior justly. The cases that are defined as status offense include underage substance abuse, running away, truancy, and curfew violations (Cheely et al., 2012). A more serious type of status offense is failing to adhere to bailing conditions (Sprott, 2012). Researchers note that making adolescents exposed to complicated conditions at probation or bailing may lead to young people’s failure to conform to the policies as they collect more and more criminal charges (Sprott, 2012).
Status offenses frequently appear due to family, personal, or community difficulties with which a young person cannot cope. Sometimes, this type of problems appears because places of confinement cannot function at their best level, which results in adolescents’ ill behavior. To eliminate the occurrence of these issues, it is necessary to introduce family-centered alternatives to confinement places that will reduce government expenditure and decrease the number of cases in family courts. As a result, such measures will eventually lead to sustainable and meaningful support to adolescents and their families.
Youth Involved in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems
The third serious issue faced by juvenile justice agencies combines in itself the first two. Youngsters who appear on the threshold between child welfare and juvenile justice systems are called crossover youth or dually involved youth (Haight, Bidwell, Marshall, & Khatiwoda, 2014). This category is mostly represented by girls and youth of color. Adolescents belonging to crossover youth have a rather high risk of mental health disorders and status offenses issues (Whitted, Delavega, & Lennon-Dearing, 2013). Such youngsters usually experience neglect and abuse, which causes their disposition to delinquent behavior.
To eliminate the difficulties in the work of juvenile justice agencies, it is necessary to arrange collaboration between child welfare and juvenile justice systems that would lead to positive changes in work with crossover youth (Haight et al., 2014). When these two systems organize productive communication, they may bring about a lot of beneficial outcomes for adolescents.
There are many issues that limit the successful operation of juvenile justice agencies. Not only do these organizations deal with some of the most problematic age group of people but they also face a variety of challenges presented by the participants of justice system. Mental health issues that may have diverse causes and consequences present the greatest challenge for the specialists working in juvenile justice agencies.
The persistence of status offences is another critical point for these organizations’ specialists. Another challenge is that some youngsters are involved both in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. To eliminate the detrimental impact of these problems, it is crucial to develop and implement interventions that will help young people, their families, and juvenile justice agencies to create the world in which there would be fewer juvenile delinquency cases.
Cheely, C. A., Carpenter, L. A., Letourneau, E. J., Nicholas, J. S., Charles, J.,& King, L. B. (2012). The prevalence of youth with autism spectrum disorders in the criminal justice system. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(9), 1856-1862.
Espinosa, E. M., Sorensen, J. R., & Lopez, M. A. (2013). Youth pathways to placement: The influence of gender, mental health need and trauma on confinement in the juvenile justice system. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(12), 1824-1836.
Haight, W. L., Bidwell, L. N., Marshall, J. M., & Khatiwoda, P. (2014). Implementing the Crossover Youth Practice Model in diverse contexts: Child welfare and juvenile justice professionals’ experiences of multisystem collaborations. Children and Youth Services Review, 39, 91-100.
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Liebenberg, L., & Ungar, M. (2014). A comparison of service use among youth involved with juvenile justice and mental health. Children and Youth Services Review, 39, 117-122.
Rodriguez, N. (2012). Concentrated disadvantage and the incarceration of youth: Examining how context affects juvenile justice. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 50(2), 189-215.
Ryan, J. P., Williams, A. B., & Courtney, M. E. (2013). Adolescent neglect, juvenile delinquency and the risk of recidivism. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(3), 454-465.
Sprott, J. B. (2012). The persistence of status offences in the youth justice system. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 54(3), 309-332.
Whitted, K. S., Delavega, E., & Lennon-Dearing, R. (2013). The youngest victims of violence: Examining the mental health needs of young children who are involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30(3), 181-195.