Mental Health and Juvenile Delinquency

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For years research has been collected and poured over, magnifying the fact that many juvenile offenders have mental illnesses that prevent them from becoming proper functioning members of society. Without proper treatment many of the individuals that are detained will not be rehabilitated and will most likely be reincarcerated multiple times throughout their lives. Since the 1980’s there has been an incredibly sharp increase (about 22% according to an article done by Children’s Services at Northeastern University) in the number of juveniles that were incarcerated. That led to over 2.8 million incarcerations that same studied showed that there was also an overlap of juvenile offenders within the mental health care facilities, and those that were in the juvenile detention system. Juveniles that were having both behavioral and emotional disorders, were not being given the proper treatment required for them, therefore making their issues ten times worse. These problems later lead to acting out against facilitators in the detention centers, causing further mistreatment of the juveniles within these facilities, which leads to another increase in behavioral problems. For specific juvenile offenders with mental health issues in the system, it’s a never ending cycle of aggression and stunted emotional development, leading to severe personality disorders later on in life, that are even less likely to be treated than when they were children.

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A prevalent personality disorder, in the United States prison system, which is also one of the hardest disorders to treat and identify for a psychologist is called Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). People who have this disorder will do literally anything to get what they want out of life, easily resorting to stealing money from friends and family. It’s defining characteristic of this disorder is the fact that there is a complete lack of empathy in that person. They have zero remorse for what they do and don’t feel that what they did was wrong. In adult populations over 15-25 percent of the populations are characterized as having some form of this disorder. The amount in the juvenile population is unknown mainly because of how hard this disorder is to diagnose. It’s mainly confused with the term psychopath which is not actually DSM recognized. Therefore many people who are believed to be so-called psychopaths in juvenile prison may actually be suffering from APD.

Dr. Kiehl a cognitive neuroscientist stated in the New Yorker recently that ‘Think about it,’ he told me. ‘Crime is a trillion-dollar-a-year problem. The average psychopath will be convicted of four violent crimes by the age of forty. And yet hardly anyone is funding research into the science. Schizophrenia, which causes much less crime, has a hundred times more research money devoted to it.’ I asked why, and Kiehl said, ‘Because schizophrenics are seen as victims, and psychopaths are seen as predators. The former we feel empathy for, the latter we lock up.’ ( Seabrook, 2008) So with crime being caused mainly by people with APD why are the courts not helping those who actually need the mental health counseling? Mainly it’s because of how the illness has come about. People who come from low-income families are much more likely to develop APD, but it’s also neurological as well caused by a defect in the paralimbic system of the brain. This is what controls our sense of fear, fight/flight, our reward system, and how our behavior towards others. The inhibition of these systems cause an intense need for stimulation and results in many people risking their lives, just to reach that sense of satisfaction.

This results in many people with APD (especially younger people) suffering drug addiction problems and leads to them either being hospitalized or becoming a part of the juvenile system. At lease with hospitalization they would have a chance of being diagnosed with it and in the end would end up receiving some sort of therapy for the mental illness. But even then those who have this illness believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and don’t see how treatment is necessary, and get themselves discharged quickly from the hospital. Usually it’s those form a lower income, and doesn’t provide much that wind up incarcerated because of either the neglectful nature of their families or the lack of money their family has to be able to hospitalize them. This leads back to the earlier point stated by Dr. Kiehl for the New Yorker where if the US tax payer are paying trillions for the prison systems, why would they not try and take some measure of prevention, by creating a screening process to see if there is any chance that those who are incarcerated may be suffering from mental illnesses.

There are screening processes possible for them to implement like, a list created by Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist who created an identifying checklist for those with APD. This checklist is used by a majority of psychologist who believe that they have a patient suffering form APD. The only problem with the screening procedure would be that a team of psychologist would be needed to conduct the tests to the juveniles, and it could quite possibly take years to be able to diagnose somebody with this disorder just because its incredibly hard to identify somebody who lacks empathy.

The process of the test is to be put through a series of various interview questions, for up to three hours. The psychologist that conducted the interview then goes and scores the patient using the checklist which has 20 items on it and they are given a score of zero, one or two. Afterwards the scores are tallied up and usually those with a score of 30 or more are most definitely considered to have ADP. This test could easily identify juveniles in the system who are suffering from ADP and help identify them and get them the treatment that is needed to learn how to be a functioning member of society.

Although people think that these tests would cost a lot of money, they would actually wind up saving money in the long run. This is because if you treat ADP where the offender can actually become a functioning member of society again, then they won’t be serving as many prison sentences therefore saving tax payers money on their cost of living. Which also means it will reduce the overall populations that are in prisons. There has been a severe problem with over populations in the prison resulting in lack of space for the criminals, and deterioration of living conditions, which once again puts mental stress on the prisoners.

The mental stress that is developed by these deterioration in living conditions brings about paranoia, which is another type of personality disorder. Although this one isn’t technically something you are born with it can be developed (especially by juveniles) living in extremely stress inducing conditions. Paranoia is soon developed and will likely result in severe stress related body illnesses like heart disease and high blood pressure. Especially juveniles feel this in prison systems, when they are sentenced, and there are also many other individuals in the jail as well. The juvenile could grow since due to overcrowding many of them are placed in adult correction centers. This is the case because the juvenile prison system is becoming to over-crowded due to the amount of juveniles being sentenced, so the court system has no choice but to send them up to the adult court system.

A clear example of this is the story of Kalief Browder a 16-year-old who committed suicide after being subjected to 3 years of both mental and physical torture. Family in interviews later conducted after his death spoke about how he constantly felt that he was being watched, that either the cops or some other authority figure were watching him. He later threw away his TV stating that they were watching him through it. This went on for 2 years after he was released. The worse thing about this was that there wasn’t even a trial. He was released after three years with the charges dropped and developed total paranoia because of what he went through.

Now imagine that for someone who actually committed the crime, especially the juveniles, or juveniles with untreated mental illnesses. If a juvenile is to go into the system with no diagnoses of a mental disease then they will be treated just like every other prisoner in the system. Neither of these instances will changed the outcome of their sentence of how long the sentence would be for. For those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses it doesn’t make much of a difference for how they are treated in the system. The only difference would really be for them to possibly go see a therapist and for them to have their medication given to them. There is a possibility that their sentence would be different but for those who plead insanity the cases are usually extremely serious and will undoubtedly result in at least one year of institutionalization.

The only time it would be truly prevalent and make a difference in the case for the juvenile would be if the illnesses was mentally debilitating like schizophrenia, or even possibly bipolar disorder. These mental disorders can cause people to lose touch with reality therefore impairing not only their judgement but also their senses as well with hallucinations, hearing voices etc. Therefore they will most likely use the insanity plea, which allows them to be committed to a psychiatric ward for the criminally insane. They would receive full time care, with specialized medication and 24 hour access to a doctor.

For juveniles that go undiagnosed with mental illnesses (which is what happens most often) it’s incredibly debilitating for them to be in the system, this means either more act ups or debilitating depression and anxiety later turning into paranoia, which effects most of them throughout their lives. Within the first 3 days of detention of about 40% of juveniles attempt suicide, for those in the system for a longer duration it’s about 72%. This is because many of them await their trials in detention centers, leaving them feeling incredibly hopeless and left alone.

The trial dates aren’t usually quick either, as shown above with Browder’s case he was waiting in a detention center for 3 years before they even dismissed the case. Imagine for those who genuinely did the crime they are accused of? They could be waiting for years just to go to trial never mind the entire process of the actual trial. And if they wind up winning the case they spend years living in a deplorable place just to leave, and be forced to go on with their lives like nothing happened which many of them can’t do. It takes many of them years to get over what happens to them in prison with the physical and mental torture form both the guards and the other prisoners.

The prison system needs to be completely reevaluated by the government. It need to become more regulated and safer for those entering it especially for the juveniles entering the system. With a majority of inmates being undiagnosed with mental illnesses it makes it incredibly hard to regulate the system to suit everyone’s needs and make a safe environment for these prisoners. ADP and paranoia are severe mental illnesses that effect many juveniles and inmates in the system across the United States. These two mental illnesses easily cause the tax payers millions of dollars, when the criminals remain incarcerated especially if medication is required for those effected. Juveniles who are incarcerated for at least one year cost tax payers at least 102,000 (Rozelle 2009) therefore if they could come up with a way to either screen prisoners for these mental illnesses, or figure out before the sentencing that they have these mental illnesses than the prisoners could get proper rehabilitation for their problems instead of going through an endless cycle of aggression and re-incarceration.

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Mental Health and Juvenile Delinquency. (2020, Mar 06). Retrieved March 20, 2023 , from

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