Best types of juvenile justice systems

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Best types of juvenile justice systems

One of the unfortunate truths of the modern American society is that at this point, 70% of the teens coming into treatment are coming from the juvenile justice system. The adolescent juvenile justice system, unlike the adult system which is really three strikes and you're out, lock 'em up and throw away the key, the juvenile justice system still very much believes in rehabilitation and trying to divert kids out of the justice system and into substance abuse treatment, particularly if addiction is their main issue. They see this as the last best shot of avoiding a lifetime of involvement with the adult justice system. And the data suggests that in fact the earlier you intervene, the more likely it is to work, the sooner they get to recovery and the longer they'll sustain it. But not all juvenile justice systems are equal. You can do it bad or well just like anything else. So a juvenile justice system that just says, "You must stop. You must go to 12-step meetings and get the signature card," don't tend to work. The ones that tend to work tend to use an evidence-based assessment and identify the severity, they ten to assess for co-occurring psychiatric problems, they tend to try to develop agreements between the justice system, the treatment system, and the family and the child and involve all those people in planning those events. Those kind of juvenile drug treatment courts have a judge who's particularly committed to working with the teens and the treatment system and the D.A. and the defenders and a local bar to try to get these kids salvaged and back into the community. And on average, they actually work as well as or better than community based treatment where the kid and the family are bringing them in on their own. In some cases, they actually work dramatically better, and where that happens, there's often a greater emphasis on co-occurring mental health problems and environment and a use of evidence-based practices that have been shown to be more effective. The more you do something sort of rigorously and that has worked in the past, the more likely it is to have a positive effect.

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Michael Dennis, PhD


Michael Dennis, PhD, is a senior research psychologist and Director of the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) coordinating center at Chestnut Health Systems in Normal, Illinois. Over the past 25 years his primary area of research has been to better understand and manage addiction and recovery over the life course. This includes multiple clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of adolescent treatment approaches and recovery support services, longitudinal studies with adolescents, adults and older adults to understand the predictors of entering and sustaining recovery, and creating the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) coordinating center for teaching evidenced based assessment to support clinical decision making at the individual level and program evaluation. He has multiple awards for moving the field from science to practice, promoting diversity through practice based evidence and bringing more people into the field.

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