Juvenile Offenders were at one time seen as youth capable of rehabilitation. At this time the juvenile justice system had a twofold approach to address the needs of juvenile offenders. One of the goals of the juvenile justice system was to correct or rehabilitate the conduct of a juvenile offender so that the mistake which in all likelihood resulted from a lapse in judgment could be corrected in the future.
Another goal for juvenile offenders in the juvenile justice system was prevention. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 set out to prevent youths from being subjected to a punitive system like that of their adult counterparts in adult criminal court. The focus of juvenile courts was more on the needs and rights of children instead of punishment. This led to many programs in the community that were focused on addressing the root of the problem with juvenile offenders rather than focusing on criminalization. However, due to the upswing in violent crime in the 1980s and 1990s the juvenile justice system began to focus more on preventing danger in the community through punishment and abandoned the original goals that the juvenile justice system sought out for juvenile offenders. This directly resulted in a juvenile justice system that focused more on the punishment of the juvenile offenders over rehabilitation and prevention.
During the shift in the juvenile justice system towards punishment many of the resources that were once allocated to address mental health issues became severely inadequate if offered at all. The lack of mental health resources has become a growing concern because studies have shown that approximately half to two-thirds of those juveniles involved in the juvenile justice system suffer from a mental health disorder. At any given time nearly, sixty percent of males and seventy-five percent of females in a juvenile detention facility suffer from at least one mental health disorder.
A number of studies have shown that specific types of mental health disorders are particularly common in juvenile offenders. Many of the symptoms of these mental health disorders include increased aggression, increased anger, lack of impulse control, depression, and anxiety. These mental health disorders occur in about ten to twenty percent of those youths involved in the juvenile justice system. When these mental health disorders are left untreated the probability of a youth acting out and becoming physically aggressive is magnified. Often the consequences that result from these episodes of aggression include increased chances of being arrested, increased risk of physical altercations, increased risk of injuries inflicted towards others, as well as self-inflicted injuries.
The sheer number of youths with mental health disorders in the juvenile justice system is not proportional to all those that need treatment. However, the number of metal health disorders in the juvenile justice system does indicate that different treatment options based on the individual needs of the juvenile should be put in place. Because such an individually tailored mental health disorder treatment plan is required to properly treat the juvenile offender many juvenile justice systems simply do not have the resources to provide such care. These services generally require a thorough evaluation and screening process in combination with an individualized treatment plan which can be a virtually impossible task for the juvenile justice system to provide. Despite recent efforts to allocate more resources to juvenile offenders suffering from mental health disorders, the juvenile justice system still requires much improvement.