Reentry Services for Juvenile Offenders with Diagnosable Mental Health Disorders: What Do We Know about the Role of Job Training?
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Each year, nearly 100,000 youth are released from juvenile facilities, jails, and prisons in the United States (Snyder, 2004). Upon release, youth may encounter challenges in different aspects of their lives as they seek to reintegrate into their communities, such as: family and living arrangements, mental and physical health, education, vocational training and employment, and substance abuse (Altschuler & Brash, 2004). Obtaining employment may represent a particular challenge for young people during this time. One study by Bullis and Yovanoff (2006) found that only 29% of young people who exited juvenile facilities were employed six months after their release, a rate that declined over time (as cited in Abrams & Freisthler, 2010).
The challenge of obtaining employment may be even greater for youth with diagnosable mental health disorders. These youth represent a significant portion of the juvenile justice population: the prevalence of mental health disorders in residential juvenile justice facilities has been estimated to be between 65 and 70% (Shufelt & Cocozza, 2006), higher than the prevalence of mental health disorders for the general population of youth in the United States (Grisso, Barnum, Fletcher, Cauffman, & Peuschold, 2001). A smaller percentage of these youth (estimated to be about 20%) grapple with mental health disorders so severe that they significantly impact the youths’ ability to function (Skowyra & Cocozza, 2007).
Research on effective interventions for these youth is beginning to emerge (Boesky, 2002), but has yet to be systematically compiled and analyzed. While literature reviews have been conducted on the effectiveness of employment programs for “at-risk” youth more generally (i.e., Fernandes-Alcantara, 2012), there appear to be fewer literature reviews on employment programs for specific youth populations, and there are currently none (to the author’s knowledge) that summarize the research on employment programs aimed at juvenile offenders with mental health issues. Therefore, this study poses the following research question: What is the current state of knowledge on employment-based interventions for juvenile offenders with mental health disorders?
This study follows the systematic review methods described by Littell, Corcoran, & Pillai (2008) for developing a protocol, locating and screening studies, extracting data, and assessing studies. First, the research question was developed to guide the review, which specified the population and conditions of interest. Next, the inclusion criteria, search strategy, data extraction methods, and assessment approach were developed. A comprehensive search was then conducted using three relevant databases: PsycINFO, Social Services Abstracts, and ERIC. Finally, articles were reviewed and grouped based on research design and outcome measures.
Overall, 43 articles were reviewed. Of these, three studies were found to fit the inclusion criteria. While research is limited in both scope and study design, it appears that existing programs have a neutral to positive effect on participants. This suggests that more research is needed on employment-based programs for juvenile offenders, as a way to connect the existing bodies of literature on juvenile justice, mental health, and employment.