Los Angeles County Offers Special Court for Juveniles With Mental Health Problems
Los Angeles County last fall launched what is thought to be the first juvenile mental health court in the country, a "modest" experiment in the juvenile justice system that focuses "only on youths with diagnosed mental health problems," the Los Angeles Times reports. The court, a "brainchild" of mental health advocates, orders treatment and monitoring rather than time in juvenile hall to minimize a youth's "chances of additional run-ins with the law." According to a 2001 county Probation Department survey, 40% of youths held in juvenile halls have "significant" mental health problems, but the court will limit its caseload to approximately 36 during its first year. Representatives from several county agencies, including the district attorney's office, determine which youths "might benefit from the court's intervention." The deciding group bases eligibility on criteria including a diagnosed mental disorder or developmental disability, the minor's ability to communicate with an attorney, the seriousness of the minor's most recent crime and the degree of violence in the minor's record. Minors seen by the court may receive an "array of court-ordered services," including admittance to special education programs, after-school supervision and regularly scheduled counseling. Deputy Public Defender Nancy Ramseyer said, "What I tell the kids when I first meet them is that this is a voluntary program, but if you work with me, we will make sure that this is the last time you are incarcerated" (Krikorian, Los Angeles Times, 1/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.