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Journal Issue: Juvenile Justice Volume 18 Number 2 Fall 2008

Juvenile Justice and Substance Use
Laurie Chassin

Summary

Laurie Chassin focuses on the elevated prevalence of substance use disorders among young offenders in the juvenile justice system and on efforts by the justice system to provide treatment for these disorders. She emphasizes the importance of diagnosing and treating these disorders, which are linked both with continued offending and with a broad range of negative effects, such as smoking, risky sexual behavior, violence, and poor educational, occupational, and psychological outcomes.

The high rates of substance use problems among young offenders, says Chassin, suggest a large need for treatment. Although young offenders are usually screened for substance use disorders, Chassin notes the need to improve screening methods and to ensure that screening takes place early enough to allow youths to be diverted out of the justice system into community-based programs when appropriate.

Cautioning that no single treatment approach has been proven most effective, Chassin describes current standards of "best practices" in treating substance use disorders, examines the extent to which they are implemented in the juvenile justice system, and describes some promising models of care. She highlights several treatment challenges, including the need for better methods of engaging adolescents and their families in treatment and the need to better address environmental risk factors, such as family substance use and deviant peer networks, and co-occurring conditions, such as learning disabilities and other mental health disorders.

Chassin advocates policies that encourage wider use of empirically validated therapies and of documented best practices for treating substance use disorders. High relapse rates among youths successfully treated for substance use disorders also point to a greater need for aftercare services and for managing these disorders as chronic illnesses characterized by relapse and remission.

A shortage of aftercare services and a lack of service coordination in the juvenile justice system, says Chassin, suggest the need to develop treatment models that integrate and coordinate multiple services for adolescent offenders, particularly community-based approaches, both during and after their justice system involvement.