Juveniles that enter the criminal justice system often have substance abuse problems, as well as other psychological issues. It is important to assess thoroughly and treat these minors in an effort to release healthy individuals. It is imperative that the justice system and the treatment systems be integrated.

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The rate of all juveniles within the United States justice system is alarmingly high. One study found that 77% of all juveniles within the criminal justice system reported using drugs in the past six months. Most of these offenses involved the use of marijuana. Almost half of the subjects of the test indicated behaviors associated with a substance use disorder. Arrest rate for juveniles involved in drug-related crimes continues to remain high as well. 2.1 million juveniles were arrested in 2008. 10% of these arrests were for drug use and violations connected to underage drinking .

As juveniles come into the criminal justice system, they often present with a variety of different psychological problems. Issues that they may be experiencing, beyond substance abuse, can include emotional disturbances, academic failure, physical health concerns, family problems, and histories of sexual and physical abuse. Females make up a third of all juvenile incarcerations, and most of these girls report physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in their pasts .

Addressing the substance abuse and other psychological issues that the adolescent is experiencing while within the justice system is important in order to release a prisoner who is less likely to behave similarly to when he or she entered the system .

In order to adequately treat juveniles that present with drug abuse and other psychological issues, these adolescents must have access to through assessments, treatment, management of their case, and appropriate support services for their age. Treatment has been integrated into several parts of the justice timeline, from initial juvenile drug courts, detention, and re-entry into the community .

Families can play a vital role in the recovery process for juveniles with drug abuse problems. Their influence can be negative or positive, based on the family structure and behaviors. Parents, themselves might have abuse problems or be involved in criminal activities. They might have also participated in the physical and sexual abuse experienced by the minor. There might be a lack of involvement by the parents. A lack of parental supervision is often a risk factor for substance abuse and other behaviors associated with delinquency. Because of the effects of treatment that the family exhibits could be either negative or positive, treatment must include the family in order to guide these people in the best situation to help the juvenile. A family-based approach will assist the entire family unit to function in a positive way. The National Institutes of Health recommend a “multisystemic therapy, multidimensional family therapy, and functional family therapy” approach while the juvenile is associated with the criminal justice system .

Chassin recommends a different approach. Juveniles that have been identified as substance abusers but who are not assessed as having other psychological problems should be transferred to an outside substance abuse program. While some feel that the offender is not punished for their crimes in this manner, the treatment, that they will receive, should create a rehabilitation .

The juvenile justice system and the drug abuse treatment systems are tightly integrated. By treating the drug abuse and any other psychological problems that an offender might have, the system is better engineered to rehabilitate the juvenile.