Letters to the Editor
Juvenile Offenders
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 19 page 37-37

Thank you for featuring the plight of juvenile offenders in the August 20 article on the findings of a congressional report. I believe that it is not enough for Congress to only learn about the warehousing of these youngsters—they should do something about it.

When youths with conduct disorder are locked up and youths with depression are incarcerated alone despite a high risk of suicide, Congress should know that it is time for action. By using detention centers as "psychiatric waiting rooms," we run the risk of making young offenders who could still be positively rehabilitated develop a deviant self-image and a sustained criminal career.

I believe we should look to the United Kingdom for the answer. There, the government provided increased funding to set up an effective court diversion system and satellite juvenile mental health facilities. Such diversion programs serve as "gatekeepers" to the court system and provide the opportunity to discontinue criminal proceedings and institute treatment for those found mentally ill.

With increased funding, states can create multiple satellite youth treatment centers that could offer basic mental health services such as counseling, vocational training, and behavior modification strategies. When youth offenders are handled in this way, it avoids the contagious sociopathic effect of staying too long in detention centers and facilitates rehabilitation. I believe this would benefit the society at large.

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