The Role of Mental Health and Specific Responsivity in Juvenile Justice Rehabilitation

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Understanding the role that mental health issues play in justice-involved youth poses challenges for research, policy, and practice. While mental health problems are generally not risk factors for criminal behavior according to the risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) framework of correctional psychology practice, prevalence rates are very high and RNR principles suggest that mental health as a responsivity variable may moderate the success of interventions targeted to criminogenic needs. In this study we investigated the relationships among mental health status, criminogenic needs treatment, and recidivism in a sample of 232 youth referred for court-ordered assessments and followed through their community supervision sentence (probation). Youth with mental health needs were no more likely than youth without these needs to reoffend, regardless of whether those needs were treated. Youth who received mental health treatment also more frequently had their criminogenic needs matched across several domains, suggesting an association between mental health treatment and intermediate treatment targets. However, mental health did not moderate the effect of criminogenic needs treatment: youth who had a greater proportion of criminogenic needs targeted through appropriate services were less likely to reoffend, regardless of mental health status. Findings are consistent with the RNR stance that, within a correctional context in which the primary goal of intervention is preventing recidivism, treatment for mental health needs should be in addition to criminogenic needs treatment, not in replacement of it. They also point to the need for continued research to understand precisely how mental health treatment interacts with intervention targeting criminogenic needs.

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