, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 205-215

Mental Health and Incarcerated Youth. II: Service Utilization


The incarceration of mentally ill youth is a serious problem not receiving the same attention as in adults. In this study, we examine the level of prior service utilization in incarcerated youth versus youth receiving community mental health services. We randomly recruited youth from middle South Carolina served by a local community mental health center (CMHC; n = 60), hospitalized in the state adolescent inpatient program (n = 50), and incarcerated in the S.C. Dept. of Juvenile Justice facilities (n = 75). We used a Services History to evaluate episodes of prior utilization of mental health, social service, educational, residential, and volunteer services, as well as the DISC-PC 2.3 to evaluate DSM-III-R diagnoses and symptoms and the CBCL and YSR to evaluate behavioral symptomatology. Incarcerated, hospitalized, and CMHC youth utilized similar levels of educational services and social services. Incarcerated youth had a significantly lower lifetime utilization of outpatient and acute mental health services and significantly higher utilization of out-of-home residential services than the other groups. These services utilization variables, along with gender and age, significantly distinguish incarcerated youth from the clinical groups, with clinical variables not serving to significantly distinguish them. Our results indicate the need to develop programs to prevent the entry of mentally ill/emotionally disturbed youth into the juvenile justice system. Youth who are at risk for incarcenation may benefit from intensive mental health services to prevent out-of-home placement and later incarceration.