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In juvenile mental health diversion court – known as JM-4 – in Washington, D.C., minors who are diagnosed with mental health problems and also charged with criminal offenses are given the option of treatment instead of incarceration.

As The Washington Post reports, JM-4 Superior Court is one of approximately a dozen courts in the country that aims to confront the problems plaguing these young people without incarcerating them.

According to D.C. law, minors charged with offenses such as misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses, including attempting to flee a law enforcement officer or driving while intoxicated, can apply to have their cases diverted to JM-4 if they have been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

“Instead of facing incarceration, which can increase the odds that the juvenile will re-offend, juveniles in diversion must deal with their problem behavior. If they’re cutting school, they have to go back — or consider getting a GED or a job. If they’re doing drugs, they have to get tested and get treatment. If they need therapy, they have to see a psychologist. If they succeed, they graduate from the program and have their cases dismissed. If they fail, they may find their case back on the regular juvenile calendar.”

Judge Joan Goldfrank, the court’s magistrate, said, “The message I want to give them is that they are supported. The whole point of juvenile justice is rehabilitation.”

But Superior Court Judge Zoe Bush, who helped design the program, said helping the minors and their families overcome the stigma of mental illness can be difficult.

“Nobody wants to be known as the kid who’s suffering from depression or suffering from PTSD,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s not a weakness if you’ve lost someone close to you to get treatment for depression or dealing with that loss.”

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Source: The Washington Post

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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