Study: Ohio Diversion Program Decreases Delinquency

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Here’s more evidence that treatment is often more effective than incarceration for young offenders.

Most offenders ages 10 to 18 with mental health and behavioral problems who were diverted from detention centers to a treatment program in Ohio over an eight-year period showed decreases in future delinquency, a study shows.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied 2,545 offenders who were enrolled in Ohio's Behavioral Health/Juvenile Justice initiative, operating in 11 counties between 2006 and 2013.

Many of the offenders had also abused drugs and alcohol, had a history of violent or criminal behavior and had had encounters with county agencies before appearing in juvenile court.

The youths were diverted from detention centers to community-based agencies for treatment of mental health issues, drug problems or both. Offenders benefited from such treatment, which may not be available in detention centers. They also showed improvements in functioning and a reduction in symptoms related to trauma.

Assessments at community agencies showed nearly 60 percent of the youths suffered from a mental health disorder, and 38 percent had been diagnosed with both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder.

Many of the youths were screened for behavioral health problems for the first time when they encountered the juvenile justice system, said Jeff M. Kretschmar, a research assistant professor from the Begun Center and the lead author of the study, in a news release.

The study, which appeared online in the Criminal Justice Policy Review, said that of the youths focused on:

  • Suicide attempts were reported by 15 percent, and another 40 percent talked about suicide.
  • About a third had been charged with a felony in the 12 months before their enrollment in the program.
  • Physical abuse was reported by 18 percent, sexual abuse by nearly 16 percent and exposure to domestic violence by 41 percent.
  • Nearly 70 percent had a family history of a mental health disorder, and 61 percent reported a family history of substance abuse.

The study found that youths who started using alcohol and drugs before age 12 and were using when they began the program were less likely to successfully complete treatment. And youths diagnosed with both a mental health and substance abuse disorder were less likely to complete treatment successfully.

The program began 15 years ago at the request of Ohio juvenile court judges with help from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

Case Western Reserve researchers at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences' Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education analyzed information from caregivers, social workers and the young offenders.

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