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Untreated Mental Health Needs Fuels School to Jail Pipeline

Jan 5, 2009, Joseph J. Cocozza, Ph.D., New York Times

Letter to the Editor

NY Times

RE: The Principal's  Office First

To The Editor:

Thank you for drawing attention to the issue of increasing school arrests. Frequently, arrested youth have untreated mental health needs that present in misbehaviors that bring them to the attention of school police and the juvenile justice system.  Schools, often lacking the training or resources to appropriately respond, find it easier to have the youth arrested than address the underlying reasons for the misbehavior.

Recognizing this "school to jail" trend, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting the development of several new strategies, being tested in multiple states, which are designed to divert youth with significant mental health problems from the justice system into treatment programs that can address their needs. 

Through its Models for Change Mental Health/ Juvenile Justice Action Network, the Foundation is supporting a school-focused diversion program in Connecticut, Ohio, and Washington that will deploy mobile mental health responders to schools to intervene in situations involving youth with a suspected mental disorder.  Training for school staff (including school police and resource officers) will help them more appropriately respond to these youth.

A second strategy underway in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Louisiana involves the development of a police-based Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training curriculum specifically for juveniles.  Most existing CIT programs in this country focus on adults; this will be one of the first to train police officers on adolescent development and mental health disorders, de-escalation techniques, the important role of the family, and resources for youth in crisis.

Once these initiatives are fully tested, we expect to share the results with states and communities across the country.

Joseph J. Cocozza, Ph.D.
Executive Director
National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice
at Policy Research Associates

345 Delaware Avenue
Delmar, NY 12054

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.