RD196 - Mental Health Assessments for Juvenile Offenders

  • Published: 2014
  • Author: Virginia Commission on Youth
  • Enabling Authority: Letter Request from Senate Courts of Justice

Executive Summary:
Data provided by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) indicate that juvenile offenders have significant mental health treatment needs. In fiscal year 2012, over 60 percent of males and 80 percent of females committed to DJJ had significant symptoms of a mental health disorder. (*1) In addition, 63 percent of males and 58 percent of females had a history of psychotropic medication use. (*2) Serving juveniles with mental health disorders is also quite costly. In 2012, DJJ’s annual expenditures for psychotropic drugs exceeded $995,376 in contrast to $387,593 for all other medications. (*3)

According to DJJ, the majority of juvenile offenders placed in confinement will eventually be released into the community with the percentage of juveniles who will return to their communities being close to 100 percent. Other states have been evaluating and modifying existing juvenile justice programming in favor of community-based approaches with the potential to yield better results for less cost. (*4) These policy approaches are also designed to better serve the mental health needs of juvenile offenders. Such policies may keep juveniles from being committed and can potentially yield a high return, particularly in Virginia where the average per bed cost for incarcerated juveniles exceeds $85,000 annually. (*5)

During the 2013 General Assembly Session, Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel introduced legislation, Senate Bill 298, requiring the juvenile and domestic relations district court, when the attorney for the Commonwealth is seeking commitment of a juvenile, to order that an interdisciplinary team evaluate the service needs of a juvenile who has (i) been placed in a secure facility, (ii) had a mental health assessment completed by the secure facility that has identified a mental health need or mental illness, and (iii) been adjudicated delinquent and found eligible for commitment. The bill also required the court to consider the report when determining whether the juvenile will be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice and to state in its order for commitment the basis for its findings. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee reviewed this bill and, determining that further study was appropriate, requested the Commission on Youth investigate the feasibility and policy implications of such legislation.

At the Commission’s meeting on April 2, 2013, the Commission on Youth adopted a study plan to examine the current practices or and the need for mental health assessments for juvenile offenders. The study plan included site visits with interviews with stakeholder groups to assist in the study effort.

At its November 18, 2013 meeting, the Commission on Youth approved the following recommendations:

Social History Report

• Amend § 16.1-278.8 of the Code of Virginia to ensure judges have a completed social history prior to disposition for juveniles who may be committed to DJJ. This recommendation includes a delayed enactment date of October 1, 2014.

• Direct DJJ create a model social history and guidelines for Court Service Units to use in assisting the courts in making informed dispositional decisions. The model social history and guidelines may include information on obtaining individualized educational program (IEP) assessments and incorporate information about exposure to trauma in a juvenile’s social history report. DJJ shall report its progress to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2015 General Assembly Session.

Mental Health Support for Court Service Units

• Introduce a budget amendment to fund up to one qualified mental health professional (QMHP) for each Court Service Unit that best suits their particular needs, including conducting mental health, substance abuse, and/or trauma screenings, assessments, and evaluations. Provide the Court Service Unit with the flexibility to hire the position or to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with their local Community Services Board.

• Introduce a budget amendment authorizing Court Service Units to contract with a QMHP for the provision of mental health, substance abuse, and/or trauma screenings, assessments, and evaluations. Provide the Court Service Unit with the flexibility to hire the position, to contract with the local CSB, or to contract with a private provider.

Community Services Board (CSB) Services in Juvenile Detention Centers

• Request the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services (DBHDS) work with Virginia’s detention home superintendents and CSB executive directors to facilitate a quantifiable agreement for the provision of mental health and substance use screening, assessment, and other services identified as necessary for juveniles in detention. DBHDS will provide guidance and technical assistance and assist in the creation of a model memorandum of understanding or other quantifiable arrangements between the detention homes and the CSBs. The agreement may include, but is not limited to, the duties of each position and expectations regarding the number of hours, services, and processes between local CSBs and detention centers. The agreement will also reflect the intent of the General Assembly that the state general funds be utilized for the provision of mental health services in local detention homes, providing a full-time mental health clinician and a case manager in each of the detention homes. The Virginia Council on Juvenile Detention (VCJD) and the VACSB shall be included in the process. DBHDS shall report its progress to COY prior to the 2015 General Assembly Session.

• Request DBHDS convene a training comprised of detention home and CSB representatives to clarify the role of each agency in the provision mental health and substance use services including assessment/evaluations, outpatient treatment, and crisis and case management services to juveniles in detention. Other topics include the purposes of the funding, the needs of juveniles in detention, model memorandums of understanding, and partnership opportunities. The VCJD and the VACSB shall be included in the process. DBHDS shall report its progress to COY prior to the 2015 General Assembly Session.


• Request DJJ investigate the feasibility of implementing a formal screening method for trauma and developing a training program for all appropriate parties in recognizing trauma and appropriately handling youth when trauma is detected.

• Support the efforts of the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the Office of the Executive Secretary for the Supreme Court, and DJJ in training appropriate parties, including police officers, judges, and other staff, in recognizing trauma and appropriately handling youth when trauma is detected.

Supporting Current Juvenile Justice Practices

• Request DJJ include in their ongoing training efforts information on the facilitation of case management of youth in the juvenile justice system. Training may incorporate best practices for juveniles with mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders as well as the impact of trauma.
(*1) Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. "Data Resource Guide Fiscal Year 2012." [Online]. Available: http://www.djj.virginia.gov/pdf/AboutDJJ/DRG/FY2012_DRG.pdf. [June 2014].
(*2) Ibid.
(*3) Personal Communication. Janet Van Cuyk, March 25, 2013.
(*4) Brown, S. (2012). "Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation: 2001 to 2011." National Conference of State Legislatures. [Online]. Available: http://www.ncsl.org/documents/cj/TrendsInJuvenileJustice.pdf. [June 2014].
(*5) Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. Data Resource Guide Fiscal Year 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.djj.virginia.gov/pdf/AboutDJJ/DRG/FY2012_DRG.pdf. [June 2014].