Early Results Encouraging From D.C. Juvenile Mental Health Court


JM-4 in Washington, D.C.’s Superior Court isn't your typical courtroom, says the Washington Post. No one is on trial. Defendants, called “respondents,” are surrounded by social workers, psychologists and, often, family members. There's no mention of the criminal charges against them. It is the home of a 14-month-old juvenile court intended to help minors with mental health problems avoid the harsh consequences and limited rehabilitation opportunities in the juvenile system.

Known as the juvenile mental health diversion court, it is the latest stop for Magistrate Judge Joan Goldfrank, who has spent much of her career navigating the intersection of mental health and criminal justice. “The message I want to give them is that they are supported,” Goldfrank said. “The whole point of juvenile justice is rehabilitation. How could we not do it on the kids' side?” The court, one of about a dozen similar courts around the U.S., is part of a broader movement toward “problem-solving” courts that try to tackle social problems such as drug use and prostitution without incarceration. The D.C. Department of Mental Health said 56 juveniles were enrolled in diversion in 2011. Eight, or 14 percent, were re-arrested, compared with 40 percent in regular court. Nationally, the re-arrest rate is 60 percent.

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