As of mid-2010, there were approximately 50 Juvenile Mental Health Courts across the country.1 In Texas, there are four such specialized courts. The first began in Austin (Travis County), followed by San Antonio (Bexar County), El Paso, (El Paso County), and Houston (Harris County). The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental health disorder, and at least 20 percent of these youth experience significant functional
impairment from a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Despite these staggering statistics, it is estimated that only half of youth with mental health issues actually receive treatment. The expansion of Juvenile Mental Health Courts stems from the concerns about lengthy delays in processing cases, lack of individualized and appropriate treatment and sanctioning, and the lack of sustained and consistent monitoring of the progress youth make while under court supervision.
CHILDREN AT RISK received funding from the Meadows Foundation to conduct an independent evaluation of the Juvenile Mental Health Courts across Texas, and to create a Blueprint which will provide jurisdictions with the fundamental tools needed to establish a Juvenile Mental Health Court in their community. The purpose of this evaluation was to determine whether or not Juvenile Mental Health Courts are reducing recidivism rates among juveniles with mental illness while saving precious tax-payer dollars.
Through this evaluation CHILDREN AT RISK found that:
• Juvenile Mental Health Courts are an effective alternative to placement in psychiatric and detention facilities,
• They reduce recidivism rates among juveniles suffering with mental illness,
• They are an effective and efficient use of public resources, and
• They provide participants and their families with the essential skills and resources they need to move toward success.
Based on our interviews with key informants, data analysis, and observation, CHILDREN AT RISK recommends: (detailed recommendations found in evaluation)
• The state of Texas should conduct one or more follow up evaluations on the Juvenile Mental Health Courts in Texas to measure consistency. Currently there is no institutionalized process for commencing and guiding evaluation efforts.
• Create a committee for the Juvenile Mental Health Courts in Texas. Members should include independent evaluation researchers, criminal justice and juvenile mental health professionals, and key representatives from county agencies which have the most impact on the programming of these courts.
• In addition, we recommend that the state of Texas sustain current
funding levels for Juvenile Mental Health Courts, community mental health services and look to expand juvenile mental health courts to counties across Texas.
• Increase CHIP and Medicaid reimbursement rates for service providers.
The following evaluation and blueprint serve as an important step needed in Texas to expand Juvenile Mental Health Courts to help reduce recidivism rates among juveniles suffering with mental illness, reduce costs to taxpayers, protect the community, and improve the lives of children in Texas.
- Learn more about the important legislation regarding mental health and juvenile justice that passed during the previous Texas Legislative Session by viewing CHILDREN AT RISK’s 82nd Legislative Report.
- See CHILDREN AT RISK’s most recent policy priorities and recommendations for mental health and juvenile justice in our Executive Summaries on the Future of Texas’ Children.
View Appendices documents: