Violence Continues to Rise in L.A. County Juvenile Halls. Mental Health is the Elephant in the Room.
An astounding 91% of L.A. County juvenile hall inmates have open mental health cases, according to a recent report from Department of Mental Health Director Jonathan E. Sherin, MD. The numbers highlight the critical role of mental health in the juvenile corrections system, which has seen a precipitous increase in violence.
39% of mental health cases in the juvenile system involve a primary assessment of impulse control and conduct disorders, 30% involve a primary assessment of mood disorders, and 29% involve trauma, according to the April report. Psychotic disorders account for just 2%. Substance abuse is a secondary diagnosis in 48% of cases but constitutes less than 1% of primary diagnoses.
Sherin writes that today’s juvenile inmates are far more likely to suffer from mental disorders than in years past. This is due to the decline of available residential treatment options for youth with psychiatric conditions.
“Failure of the current system to fully meet the changing needs of the detained youth population may have, in part, contributed to an increased use of force (including oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray) in the juvenile halls over the past three to four years. Simultaneously, the increased use of force and residual elements of a punitive culture may be compounding the mental health conditions of the youth.”