Juvenile Justice Bulletin Banner 2004

J. Robert Flores, Administrator

August 2004

Assessing the Mental Health Status of Youth in Juvenile Justice Settings

Gail A. Wasserman, Susan J. Ko, and Larkin S. McReynolds


Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children

Study Method



Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Mental Health Assessment


For Further Information



NCJ 202713

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

This Bulletin was prepared under grant numbers 1998–JB–VX–0115 and 1999–JR–VX–0005 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.

Points of view or opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of OJJDP or the U.S. Department of Justice.


A Message From OJJDP

Serious mental health and substance use disorders can interfere with the rehabilitation of youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system and increase their risk for recidivism. Too often, the needs of these youth have gone unrecognized and untreated because of inadequate screening and assessment.

One obstacle to assessing the mental health needs of youth in the juvenile justice system has been the dearth of reliable, easy-to-use assessment instruments. This Bulletin reports the results of a study of the Voice DISC–IV, a version of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC) that is self-administered using a computer and headphones. The DISC is an extensively tested child and adolescent diagnostic interview that has been evaluated in clinical and community settings. The self-administered Voice DISC offers several advantages for use within the juvenile justice system—notably, minimal staff support requirements, immediate scoring that generates provisional DSM–IV diagnoses, and the assurance of privacy that can enhance the willingness of youth to disclose sensitive personal information.

Based on their findings and those of other researchers, the authors recom- mend best practices in assessing the mental health of juvenile offenders. This Bulletin provides guidance to juvenile justice professionals seeking to establish guidelines for mental health assessment in juvenile justice facilities.



Gail A.Wasserman, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice, Division of Child Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY. Larkin S. McReynolds, M.P.H., is Senior Data Analyst at the Center. Susan J. Ko, Ph.D., Clinical Director at the Center at the time of this study, is currently Director of the Service Systems Core at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, University of California, Los Angeles.

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