Racial differences in the mental health needs and service utilization of youth in the juvenile justice system

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Abstract

Mental health placement rates by the juvenile justice system differ by race. However, it is unknown whether mental health needs differ by race. This study attempted to investigate potential differences in mental health needs and service utilization among Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic juvenile justice involved youth. A stratified random sample of 473 youth petitioned, adjudicated, and incarcerated from 1995-1996 was examined using a standard chart review protocol and the Childhood Severity of Psychiatric Illness measure for mental health needs. Significant and unique mental health needs were demonstrated for all racial groups. African American youth demonstrated the greatest level of needs. Minority status indicated significantly lower rates of mental health service utilization. Minority youth in the juvenile justice system are most at risk for underserved mental health needs. Based on the current data, it can be inferred that the first contact with the state's child and adolescent serving system, which includes the juvenile justice and mental health sectors, appears to be through the juvenile justice sector for many minority youth with delinquency problems.

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