Advocates push hard for mental-health emphasis for juvenile offenders

Earlier this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his plans to separate the Department of Juvenile Justice from state prison system, with the goal of moving supervision of young offenders to state health agencies.

For many juvenile justice advocates, the change was long overdue. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports approximately 50% to 70% of children who have interacted with the state’s juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder. The center also reports approximately 40% to 80% of the incarcerated youth population have at least one mental health disorder.

While it’s more common for older children to be offenders, some as young as 11 and 12 have entered juvenile hall, Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Commissioner Lissa Thiele said.

“That’s younger than we ever talked about before,” she saidTo address why youth at such a young age end up in the justice system, Thiele said society needs to “peel back the onion to where this first began, so to speak.”

The stigma of mental illness needs to be addressed, Thiele said.

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