Approximately 40–70% of justice-involved youth have untreated mental health problems. There is no current research that directly compares the mental health profiles of youth involved in the justice system to that of inpatients and outpatients. The research reported is significant because it directly compares the needs of these population by use of the same suite of standardized assessment tools.
The sample consisted of 755 youth aged 16–19 years recruited from youth justice and mental health facilities in Ontario, Canada. Participants completed semi-structured assessment interviews using the interRAI child and youth suite of instruments to assess for internalizing and externalizing concerns as well as exposure to traumatic life events.
Findings indicated that justice-involved youth experienced higher levels of certain types of trauma. Analyses examining sex differences indicated that, controlling for age, males in the youth justice group reported higher cumulative trauma compared to male outpatients but not inpatients. Females in the youth justice group reported experiencing higher cumulative trauma compared to female outpatients and inpatients. In addition, controlling for sex and age, the youth justice group reported lower internalizing symptoms scores than inpatients and outpatients. Finally, males in the youth justice group scored lower than inpatients in externalizing symptoms, whereas females within the youth justice group scored higher in externalizing symptoms compared to inpatients and outpatients.
Results indicated that youth who are involved with the justice system exhibit significant psychosocial issues that represent complex service needs which require unique interventions in order to be addressed appropriately.