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Wednesday, May 9, 2007 10:00 pm

The young and the restless

Juvenile recidivism can be slowed with mental-health treatment, report finds

Untitled Document In the fall of 2005, with the assistance of then-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and Youth Network Council received a $1.2 million grant to expand mental-health services to children who’d been exposed to the juvenile justice system [see R.L. Nave, “Mind matters,” Sept. 29, 2005]. This week, the youth organization released the findings of a 16-month program, called the Juvenile Justice/Mental Health Initiative. Among 698 juveniles with prior contact with the juvenile justice system, lead evaluator Gary B. Beringer reports, early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness resulted in a dramatic decrease in repeat offenses. In Illinois, the recidivism rate among juveniles nears 50 percent, despite the state’s spending more than three times in per capita funding on youth offenders. Participants in the mental-health initiative saw much lower rates, however. Of 566 juveniles who could be tracked, 10.7 percent committed offenses during the 16-month program period.
Beringer’s evaluation also revealed a “substantial unmet need for mental health services, including proper mental assessment” among children ages 10 through 17 who had had one or more previous contacts with law enforcement.
Girls represented 37.3 percent of participants, although they account for just 8 percent of Illinois’ juvenile prison population.
Almost half of the participants were white; African-Americans accounted for 39.3 percent and Hispanics 12.1 percent of JJMHI clients. Most, some 80 percent, had some form of health insurance, either through a private company or a state program such as Kid Care. Participants also exhibited a range of destructive behaviors, including thoughts of or attempts at suicide, physical and sexual abuse, homicidal thoughts, violence, and self-injury or mutilation.
According to C. Gary Leofanti, president of ICOY, had it not been for the treatment they received during the program, most of the participants would never have broken the cycle of criminal behavior. The initial funding for the initiative, which was carried out by 22 community-based health-care and youth organizations, was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Now, the organizations that spearheaded the effort are looking for an additional $500,000 in matching funds from the state to keep the mental-health initiative going and eventually combine it with the state’s Medicaid program.

Contact R.L. Nave@illinoistimes.com
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