Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Juvenile Delinquency and Addiction

Involvement in the juvenile justice system is a reality for many juveniles who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Studies have shown that 77 percent of minors involved in the criminal justice system report substance use within the previous six months and nearly 50 percent of those detained in juvenile facilities have a diagnosable substance use disorder. A recent report indicated that 10% of all juvenile arrests were drug or alcohol related. Increasingly, juvenile courts throughout the nation are exploring new methods to treating and rehabilitating addicted youth. Research shows that the use of locked detention facilities does little to reduce recidivism and can actually harm minors who have mental health or addiction disorders. As a result, many courts are exploring community-based alternatives that help address a minor’s underlying addiction issues.

Treatment in the Juvenile Justice System

Early intervention has been determined to be critical in working with young people who enter the juvenile justice system. Increasingly, courts are having all minors undergo screening and assessment for substance abuse disorders and other conditions as part of the screening process, regardless of the charge. Local treatment providers have been working with juvenile courts to educate about the importance of early intervention and about what resources are available. Court-ordered treatment has been shown to be extremely effective. This often involves removing the minor from his or her home environment, if only temporarily, as it is nearly impossible to intervene unless a minor is removed from the risky environment that contributed to substance abuse issues in the first place.

Use of Diversion Programs

Many juvenile courts throughout the country are overburdened with heavy caseloads and limited resources. This has led to an increased reliance on diversion programs for juvenile offenders, which have been shown to be effective and less costly than detention in locked juvenile facilities. Diversion programs may include intensive community supervision, day reporting centers where the juvenile is expected to check in regularly, day treatment programs designed for addicted youth, evening and weekend programs that allow minors to remain in school or at home, home detention, strict curfews, electronic home monitoring and many other programs.

Juvenile Drug Courts

As a way to address the needs of addicted juvenile offenders, many jurisdictions have adopted the adult drug court model for minors with substance abuse issues. California, Florida, and Nevada have led the way in the use of juvenile drugs courts and hundreds of programs are underway throughout the United States.

Juvenile drug courts face a number of unique challenges and several common characteristics including:

  • Comprehensive intake assessments that place emphasis on the minor and his or her family.
  • An emphasis on responding to the minor’s needs by coordinating with the court, the school system, treatment providers and other community agencies.
  • Use of a case management approach that includes active and continuous supervision of the minor throughout all stages of the juvenile drug court process.
  • Use of sanctions for noncompliance and incentives that recognize progress and compliance by the minor and his or her family.
Minors With Coexisting Disorders

In many cases, addicted youth also have coexisting physical, behavioral or psychological disorders, which often contribute to their substance abuse. Traditional treatment strategies are often not effective in addressing the specific circumstances of the coexisting disorders.

Coexistence of youth substance abuse and mental or behavioral disorders is extremely common and these two sets of issues are often related and difficult to disentangle. Treatment providers often will receive special cross-training to develop the sensitivity and clinical skills needed to understand and identify dual diagnoses and to treat minors effectively.

Studies have shown that minors being treated for substance abuse disorders also have high occurrences of mood disorders (specifically depression), conduct/oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Once a young person with a mental disorder begins to use substances, both problems tend to get worse. Affected minors often turn to drugs and alcohol to treat these underlying emotional and psychologically issues which leads to addiction, dependence and a variety of other issues.