As California and the nation continue to struggle with budget crises, creative and cost-effective approaches in the provision of services for high-needs youthful offender populations are becoming increasingly necessary. Leaders in California, Georgia and New York have recently called for reform or “realignment” of their out-of-date state-run juvenile justice systems. While the urgency for reform in many states is a result of strained state budgets, it serves as an opportunity to engage juvenile justice stakeholders to restructure their juvenile justice systems in a more efficient and effective manner. One population to pay particular attention to when planning for juvenile justice realignment is the disproportionate number of youth with mental health needs in juvenile facilities, known as the “crossover caseload.”
These highest-needs youth have historically been neglected during times of reform, when in fact they are the youth most in need of quality, individualized care. As a result of 1980s mental health system reform, juvenile justice systems, in effect, replaced public psychiatric hospitals in the care of mentally ill youth; despite the fact that the juvenile justice system lacks the resources to provide adequate services for this population. Although rates of juvenile incarceration have been declining, a disproportionate number of youth in this crossover caseload are still being confined, between 50-70 percent nationally and 42 percent in California, according to conservative estimates.