Youth Justice Struggles to Address Mental Health

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas lawmakers are working to reform the discipline system that critics call the school-to-prison pipeline.

Lawmakers have filed dozens of bills to remove criminal sanctions for youthful behavior. But experts say mental health plays an important role in the struggle to emerge from adolescence on a solid path.

Figures obtained through the state's open records law show nearly 1,100 cases of substance abuse or dependence among the 1,411 youths in custody of the Juvenile Justice Department.

The most prevalent single diagnosis is 770 cases of conduct disorder.

Those who work closely with young offenders say the decriminalization movement fails to account for the full scope of the problem. They say signs of mental illness are easily overlooked or misinterpreted even by well-intentioned parents and teachers.

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