by Robert Vermeiren, M.D., Ph.D., and Vladislav Ruchkin, M.D., Ph.D.; Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders, 2006, 240 pages, $85
Dr. Grisso is affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
This is the first issue in the Clinics series devoted to juvenile justice, and it provides an overview of mental health issues relevant to the juvenile justice system. As the book's preface explains, in the United States and many other countries during the 1990s the juvenile justice system became increasingly retributive and less rehabilitative in its objectives. But a few years ago research began to reveal that a large proportion of youths in juvenile justice programs—around two of three—met clinical criteria for one or more mental disorders. This has fueled new interest and attention regarding ways to respond to the mental health needs of youths as they enter, are processed through, and are in the custody of the juvenile justice system.
This interest has produced other recent works devoted to the topic, but few with the breadth and diversity of this volume. Its 13 invited articles are clustered in three sections that cover a wide range of topics, including the nature and prevalence of mental disorders among youths in the juvenile justice system, methods and issues in identifying youths' disorders, and reviews of treatment methods within the context of juvenile justice objectives, programs, and resources.
Another source of diversity for this volume is its international perspective. Its editors are Robert Vermeiren of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Vladislav Ruchkin of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Yale University. Almost half of the articles are authored by North Americans, and the rest are by authors with primary or joint affiliations in Europe or Russia—with some collaboration with American authors. In addition, the authors represent a balanced blend of psychiatrists and psychologists, all of whom value and apply a decidedly empirical perspective in their reviews and discussions of the issues.
Overall the articles are well written and well researched, and most of them offer up-to-date information with excellent depth and a degree of synthesis that avoids a tedious study-by-study review. The articles that review mental disorders avoid clinical generality and instead discuss disorders in the context of delinquent youths specifically. Regarding assessment of youths, the chapters on mental health screening and on violence risk assessment are especially strong, but the volume offers little for students of juvenile forensic assessment, such as evaluations to address specific legal questions related to transfer to criminal court and competence to stand trial. The reviews of treatments focus on what can be applied practically and what works within juvenile justice settings specifically.
International reviews focusing on legal or systematic questions run the risk of offering discussions that are relevant for some countries but not for others because of jurisdictional differences. The risk in this case was worth it. Indeed, one is impressed by the many cross-national commonalities faced by clinicians who are concerned with the relationships between mental disorders and delinquency, as well as identification and treatment of mental disorders within a juvenile justice context.