Objectives: (1) To accurately assess rate of psychiatric disorder in incarcerated juveniles, and (2) to examine the feasibility of using a self-administered, comprehensive structured psychiatric assessment with those youths.
Method: In 1999-2000, 292 recently admitted males in secure placement with New Jersey and Illinois juvenile justice authorities provided self-assessments by means of the Voice Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children-IV, a comprehensive, computerized diagnostic instrument that presents questions via headphones.
Results: Assessments were well tolerated by youths, staff, and parents; 92% of approached youths agreed. Rates of disorder were comparable to prior diagnostic assessment studies with interviewers. Beyond expectable high rates of disruptive and substance use disorders, youths reported high levels of anxiety and mood disorders, with over 3% reporting a past-month suicide attempt. Youths with substance use disorder were significantly more likely to be incarcerated for substance offenses than were youths with no disorder or those with other, non-substance use disorders.
Conclusions: Although the study identified rates of disorder generally comparable to those of prior investigations, some differences, understandable in the context of measurement variations, are apparent. Those variations offer recommendations for mental health assessment practices for youths in the justice system that would include using a comprehensive self-report instrument, pooling across parent and youth informants for certain disorders, focusing on current disorder, and flexibility regarding consideration of impairment.