How Time in a Youth Correctional Facility Negatively Affects Future Health and Well-Being

Posted by MST Services

Aug 11, 2022 9:00:00 AM

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The United States has more children in a youth correctional facility than any other country in the world. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that about 60,000 adolescents under the age of 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons on any given day.

Research shows that children who have spent time in facilities tend to exhibit physical and mental health concerns later in life and they are more likely to fall behind in school, which is an important component of staying out of the system.

Negative Impact of Out-of-Home Placements

In a study of 14,344 adults who were in a youth correctional facility when they were between the ages of 7 and 24, 50.3% reported a total incarceration time of less than 1 month, 34.8% reported 1 to 12 months, and 15.0% reported longer than one year. The research found that a duration of 1 to 12 months predicted worse subsequent adult general health, while a duration of >1 year predicted subsequent functional limitations, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.

Furthermore, The Impact of Juvenile Correctional Confinement on the Transition to Adulthood by Shelly Schaefer, Ph.D. and Gina Erickson, Ph.D., investigated how time in a youth correctional facility slows healthy psychosocial development and affects a successful future.

The authors’ research found the following to be true:

“Findings show significantly lower levels of psychosocial maturity measures for responsibility and perspective for confined youth compared to both non-delinquent and non-confined youth. Subsequently, confined youth have lower levels of educational and employment attainment in young adulthood compared to all other youth. Results suggest the need for juvenile facilities to rely less on correctional control and to incorporate programming that allows juveniles to build psychosocial maturity skills through activities that mirror typical adolescent responsibilities, behaviors, and tasks.”

Simply put, at-risk youth would be better served in programs that encourage skill-building, positive habits, and age-appropriate responsibilities.

Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility – Steps to 0 Incarcerated Girls

A 2004 Department of Justice Investigation discovered that girls in the Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility were sexually assaulted and received inadequate medical care. With this information, state leaders decided it was time to reduce Hawai’i’s dependence on the juvenile justice system. They utilized the nationwide Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDIA) - a community-based network of practitioners and other system stakeholders that aims to protect at-risk youth and keep them on a path toward a successful future – to transition children out of facilities, divert them from detention, and offer assistance to those who need it most.

As a result, the number of incarcerated boys dropped to 16, and, by June 16, 2022, there were zero girls in the Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility.

This was possible with the help of the JDIA and other community-based programs. For example, Parents and Children Together offers valuable social services to children and families that need them most. Since 1968, the program has grown to serve over 17,000 at-risk youth and caregivers throughout Hawai’i.

Parents and Children Together provides intensive support services for individuals who face serious behavioral, social, and emotional challenges. Focus areas include family networks and relationships, school or job performance, peer connections and relationships, and neighborhood and community networks and supports.

They use an evidence-based approach to creating treatment plans, which draws from clinical theory and empirically-supported therapeutic principles. Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is one evidence-based treatment plan geared toward helping youth who have complicated or unsafe home lives. MST therapists on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and Hawai’i Island help children remain with their families, stay in school, obtain employment, and avoid arrest or re-arrest. Part of MST’s long-term success in Hawai’i is related to the ability of local providers like Parents and Children Together, and Child and Family Service, to apply the model’s principles to the local community’s culture. Therapists are from the neighborhoods they serve, and are respectful of and knowledgeable about the customs and practices of the families they work with.

Additional efforts by the state legislature have helped as well. In 2004, the Hawai’i State Judiciary created the Girls Court to train probation officers on how to work with young women, specifically. Meanwhile, judges were taught to understand what drives them to run away from home. They began to make recommendations for counseling and other rehabilitation services in lieu of sending them to the state correctional facility.

In 2014, the state passed a law that increased budgeting for youth mental health and substance abuse programs. The goal was to decrease the overall Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility population by 60% over the subsequent five years. That year, Hawai’i also decriminalized sex work for minors.

While the Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility currently has zero incarcerated girls, there are around 16 incarcerated boys. Martha Torney, the former executive director of the Office of Youth Services says that boys typically “engage in very serious behaviors,” so they may never get the number of incarcerated young men to zero.

This is precisely why gender-specific approaches to diverting children away from the justice system are necessary. According to Torney, while young women are more likely to commit status offenses, like staying out past curfew or skipping school, boys are more likely to commit violent crimes. This understanding helps state and community-based organizations develop programs that help young men and girls in areas they need the most guidance and healing.

Multisystemic Therapy Proven to Help At-Risk Children and Families

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is a scientifically proven intervention for at-risk youth. MST effectively treats children and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings.

Treatment plans are designed with individual and family strengths and needs in mind. Plans may include services such as family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, peer ecology assessment and intervention, trauma-informed treatment, and educational/vocational support.

Program data shows that MST works. Juveniles who participate in Multisystemic Therapy programs have 54% fewer arrests over 14 years, a 75% decline in violent felony arrests over 22 years, and 54% less out-of-home placements.

Diverting children from entering or re-entering the juvenile justice system is possible. MST and programs within the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative are designed specifically to identify children and families who need assistance, provide necessary and applicable resources, and keep youth at home and in school – where they belong.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs which could include but is not limited to the following types of interventions: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.

Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform, Mental Health