Juvenile Offenders with Mental Illnesses

What is a juvenile offender? A juvenile offender is somebody who is too young to be prosecuted as an adult. The appropriate age at which a juvenile can be prosecuted varies between states, but is usually around the age of seventeen or eighteen. This age can go down for certain serious offenses, such as homicide or sexual assault. When a juvenile is charged for a crime they are usually sent to juvenile court, to be rehabilitated rather than punished. The offender will be said to have committed a "delinquent act," as opposed to a "criminal offense." Many states have large juvenile prisons and treatment facilities. It is understood that some juvenile offenders are very dangerous, despite their age, and that incarceration can be appropriate. But what happens if these “delinquents” have a mental illness? Should these juveniles be charged as an adult in a court of law if they have a mental illness?

            The Institute of Medicine has estimated that about twelve percent of children in the United States, 7.5 million boys and girls under the age of eighteen have been said to have some type of brain disorder (Bender 101).

Research suggests that up to seventy percent of the estimated daily average of more than ninety-thousand adjudicated youths cycling through local and state adult and juvenile justice placements or facilities have a mental health disorder. Seventy-five percent of young offenders have a substance abuse disorder and twenty percent suffer from a mental health disorder serious enough to impair their daily functioning (Hunsicker).

Most people have accepted that any child can suffer from any mental illness; many people even believe that a child’s emotional and behavioral problems were the result of outside factors, such as bad parenting (Bender 101). “Early identification for juvenile mental illnesses consists of looking for substance abuse, medications, aggressive or violent behaviors, psychiatric hospitalization or treatment, and current mental...