TOP > Projects > Past Projects > brownU > Vol. 21, No.1, January 2005 - Report indicts juvenile justice system for lack of treatment - CASA calls for overhaul of state systems


Vol. 21, No.1, January 2005 - Report indicts juvenile justice system for lack of treatment - CASA calls for overhaul of state systems

A groundbreaking report by the National Center on Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) found that the vast majority of juvenile arrests involve substance abuse or addiction yet most of these youths go untreated.

According to CASA's five-year study, Criminal Neglect: Substance Abuse, Juvenile Justice and The Children Left Behind, four of every five children and teen arrestees in state juvenile justice systems are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit having substance abuse and addiction problems, or share some combination of these characteristics.

According to CASA, the 177-page report is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of substance abuse and state juvenile justice systems. The report found that 1.9 million of 2.4 million juvenile arrests had substance abuse and addiction involvement, but only 68,600 juveniles receive substance abuse treatment.

"We are releasing them without attending to their needs for substance abuse treatment and other services, punishing them without providing help to get back on track," CASA Chairman and President Joseph A. Califano, Jr., told The Letter.

The report reveals that drug and alcohol abuse is implicated in 64 percent of violent offenses, 72 percent of property offenses and 81 percent of assaults, vandalism and disorderly conduct among juvenile offenders.

The main drugs of abuse among juvenile offenders are alcohol and marijuana, the report found. Although alcohol is not included in standard drug tests, 38 percent of juveniles admit being under the influence of alcohol at the time of their crimes.

"Juvenile justice systems were originally conceived as institutions to help young offenders get on the path to law abiding lives," says Califano. "As a result of their failure to address these problems, they have become colleges of criminality, paving the way to further crimes and adult incarceration for many of their graduates. We have 51 different systems of juvenile injustice with no national standards of practice or accountability."

Among adults aged 18 or older who were arrested in the past year, the report found that 64 percent had initiated alcohol or illicit drug use at age 17 or younger, compared to 23 percent of adults not arrested in the past year.

The report found that:
  • At least 30 percent of adults in prison for felony crimes were incarcerated as juveniles.
  • Ninety-two percent of arrested juveniles who tested positive for drugs, tested positive for marijuana; 14.4 percent, for cocaine.
  • Up to three-quarters of incarcerated 10- to 17-year-olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
  • As many as eight out of 10 incarcerated juveniles suffer from learning disabilities.
  • Compared to juveniles who have not been arrested, those who have been arrested once in the past year are: more than twice as likely to have used alcohol; more than 3.5 times likelier to have used marijuana; more than three times likelier to have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes; more than seven times likelier to have used Ecstasy; more than nine times likelier to have used cocaine and more than 20 times likelier to have used heroin.
  • The arrest rate for female juveniles increased almost 7.4 percent between 1991 and 2000, while the arrest rate for male juveniles decreased almost 18.9 percent.
  • The arrest rate for black juveniles is more than 1.5 times the rate for white juveniles.
Costly and ineffective?
Based on the report's findings, CASA is calling for a complete overhaul of the juvenile justice system.

The CASA report, based on 2000 arrestee and juvenile court data, found that juvenile justice systems cost society $14.4 billion a year just in law enforcement, courts, detention, residential placement, incarceration, substance abuse treatment and federal block grants. If other costs, such as probation, physical and mental health, child welfare and family services, education and victims are included, the price would more than double.

According to CASA, a $5,000 investment in substance abuse treatment and getting other appropriate services for each juvenile who would otherwise be incarcerated would pay for itself in the first year if only 12 percent stayed in school and remained drug- and crime-free.

The report also surmises that if crimes and incarceration of 12 percent of substance-involved adult inmates with juvenile records could be prevented, there would be 60,480 fewer inmates and 5.9 million fewer crimes, resulting in an $18 billion savings in avoided criminal justice and health costs and in employment benefits.

Report cites disarray
The CASA report cited developments in specific states that indicate a state of disarray for juvenile correctional facilities nationwide. The instances cited were:
  • A class action lawsuit brought by incarcerated juveniles in California that alleges safety violations and disregard for juveniles with mental health and learning disability issues.
  • An investigation by the U.S. Attorney General's Office of the Nevada Youth Training Center that found the use of excessive physical force against juveniles.
  • Documented physical abuse of juveniles at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.
  • Deficiencies in mental health, medical care, and safety as well as egregious abuses at two training schools in Mississippi.
According to the latest available data in 1995, almost 60 percent of juveniles admitted to secure detention were in overcrowded facilities. Children in crowded detention centers are more likely to be injured, spend less time in school and participate in fewer constructive programs, according to CASA.

CASA found no programs that provide for the spiritual or religious enrichment of children despite findings that such programs and services can help prevent substance abuse and addiction.

CASA recommendations
The CASA report recommends the following to address these issues:
  • Creating a model juvenile justice code to set practice standards and accountability for states in handling juvenile offenders.
  • Training all juvenile justice system staff, including juvenile judges, law enforcement and other court personnel, how to recognize and deal with substance-involved offenders.
  • Extending to juveniles diversion programs such as juvenile drug courts and comprehensive home-based services.
  • Making available treatment, healthcare, education and job training programs to children in juvenile justice systems.
  • Expanding grant programs through the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and conditioning such grants on providing appropriate services to juvenile offenders.
  • Developing state and national data systems to judge progress in meeting the needs of these children.
  • Ensuring that each child receives a comprehensive assessment to determine needs. Assessment should include individual strengths, behavioral problems, family history including substance abuse, school history, medical history and peer relationships.

The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, January 2005
Reproduced with permission of Manisses Communications Group, Inc
For subscription information contact Manisses at:
208 Governor St Providence, RI02906 USA
Phone 1-401-861-6020
Fax 1-401-861-6370
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