Expert Commentary

Survey of youth in residential placement: Needs and services

2010 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and U.S. Department of Justice on the life experiences of young people in custody.

The early lives of youth in custody in the United States are often marked by experiences with trauma, substance abuse and mental health problems. From detention and correction facilities to camps and community-based programs, the institutions that deal with such youth must address a wide variety of underlying health and wellness issues in order to help rehabilitate and properly serve them.

A 2010 report by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and U.S. Department of Justice, “Survey of Youth in Residential Placement: Youth’s Needs and Services”, used data from more than 7,000 youth in custody gathered during interviews.

The report’s findings include:

  • 70% of youth in custody reported that they had “had something very bad or terrifying” happen to them in their lives. 67% reported having seen someone severely injured or killed.
  • 26% of those surveyed said felt as if “life was not worth living.” 22% reported having tried to commit suicide at some point in their lives.
  • 84% of the youth surveyed said they had used marijuana, compared to a rate of 30% among their peers in the general population; 30% reported having used crack or cocaine, compared with only 6% in the general population.
  • On many questions, there was a notable split between males and females, with girls often reporting more pronounced difficulties: 63% of girls reported having problems with anger, whereas 47% of boys did; 49% of girls reported having hallucinatory experiences, whereas only 16% of boys did; 37% of girls reported having suicidal thoughts and feelings, whereas only 18% of boys did.
  • Among youth who have many emotional problems, 75% said that the counseling they received was either “somewhat helpful” or “very helpful.”
  • Among those who reported four or more recent substance-related problems, only about 60% said they had been provided with substance abuse counseling in their current facility.
  • Many youth in custody reported having attention problems and difficulties in school. Once in custody, only 45% report spending 6 hours a day or more in school. For the general population, a typical school day is 6 to 7 hours.

The report also provides insights into the types of facilities and programs for youth in custody, and details recommendations to increase effectiveness in areas such as counseling, education and health.

Tags: crime, drugs, youth, mental health

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