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Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Feb 1;63(2):130-4. doi: 10.1176/

A national survey of U.S. juvenile mental health courts.

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National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, Policy Research Associates, Inc., 345 Delaware Ave., Delmar, NY 12054, USA.



The authors surveyed U.S. juvenile mental health courts (JMHCs).


Forty-one were identified in 15 states, and 34 returned surveys; one was completed on the basis of published information. Topics included the court's history, youths served, inclusion and exclusion criteria, the court process, and services provided.


Half (51%) reported that the juvenile court was responsible for the program; for 11% the probation agency had the responsibility, and 17% reported shared responsibility by these entities. Fifty-one percent reported that all youths with any mental disorder diagnosis are eligible. The most commonly reported participant diagnoses are bipolar disorder (27%), depression (23%), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (16%). Seventy percent currently include participants with felony offenses, and 91% with misdemeanors; 67% exclude status offenses, and 21% exclude violent offenses. A guilty plea was required by 63%. Incentives to participate included dismissal of charges (40%), reduction in court hearings (43%), praise by the judge and probation officer (60%), reduction in curfew restrictions (23%), and gift cards or gifts (71%). Sanctions for not participating included increased supervision or hearings (60%), performing community service (54%), and placement in residential detention (60%). Most JMHCs reported use of a multidisciplinary team to coordinate community-based services to prevent protracted justice system involvement.


JMHCs are being developed in the absence of systematically collected outcome data. Although they resemble adult mental health courts, they have unique features that are specific to addressing the complex needs of youths with mental disorders involved in the justice system. These include diagnostic and treatment challenges and issues related to involving families and schools.

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