Prevalence of Internalizing, Externalizing, and Psychotic Disorders Among Low-Risk Juvenile Offenders

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Abstract

To effectively allocate mental health services, agencies must be able to predict what proportion of youth will have a mental disorder. Prevalence estimates are available for juvenile offenders at intake, detained youth, and incarcerated youth, but there is limited research on prevalence of mental disorders for juvenile offenders who are low-risk to reoffend, many of whom are first time offenders (i.e., low-risk youth). To complicate matters, ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the justice system, and specifically, little is known about culturally sensitive clinical interviewing. To aid service providers and administrators in allocating mental health resources for low-risk offenders and to contribute to knowledge on culturally sensitive clinical assessment techniques, the present study reports the prevalence of mental disorders for a mostly Mexican American sample of 503 low-risk youth in diversion programming. We found that approximately 1 of every 6 (17.1%) low-risk juvenile offenders had a current affective, anxiety, or psychotic disorder, and 24.9% of low-risk juvenile offenders met criteria for a current substance/alcohol abuse disorder. These results suggest that allocating a portion of specialty mental health services and substance abuse treatment for low-risk juvenile offenders may help agencies combat the issue of repeat offending by offering public health interventions proactively to indirectly prevent recidivism rather than reacting afterward. Lastly, recommendations are given to help service providers incorporate culturally sensitive techniques into clinical assessment in order to better identify Mexican American juvenile offenders with mental health needs.

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