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Keywords:

  • mental health;
  • juvenile justice system;
  • young offenders;
  • emotional disorders

Problem: To estimate rates of emotional disorder in the Maryland Juvenile Justice system as a guide for planning and policy efforts.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, psychopathology and level of functioning in a random sample of 312 committed and detained youth (60 females, 252 males) were assessed. Youth diagnostically classified met criteria for mental disorder using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC) combined with a cut-off score (60 or below) on the Child Global Assessment Scale (CGAS), as established by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Findings: Fifty-three percent were classified with diagnosable mental disorders on the DISC, but were above the cut-off scores on the CGAS. Forty-six percent met criteria for diagnosis and low functioning. Twenty-six percent of youth indicated need for immediate mental health services. Fourteen percent with serious mental disorders and substantial functional impairment were in need of a highly restrictive environment as determined by the severity of their offenses.

Conclusions: The number of youth in the Maryland Juvenile Justice System in need of mental health services indicates a need to examine treatment options that meet the requirements for security and treatment. The complexity of problems found in this sample indicates the need for collaborative efforts between mental health and juvenile justice personnel in planning for the immediate and future needs of these youth.