Juvenile Law Center

Child Welfare and Foster Care|Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Mental Health Treatment and Self-Incrimination

Research suggests that 65 to 75 percent of youths involved with the juvenile justice system have one or more diagnosable psychiatric problems.1 Without identification and treatment, these youth may pose a safety risk to themselves or others in facilities. Moreover, untreated youth may become even more deeply involved in the system as they “fail to adjust” to probation conditions and the demands of institutional placements.  Juvenile courts have launched important initiatives to address the needs of this population, including screening, assessment and treatment at one or more stages of the juvenile court process. 

However, there is a very real potential for youth to incriminate themselves in these situations, leaving them open to prosecution for additional offenses.  Youth charged with crimes have a constitutional right not to incriminate themselves.2 This right against self-incrimination is threatened, however, when a youth answers certain questions or provides information during screening, assessment or treatment. Without explicit protections, youth risk prosecution for statements procured for the purpose of identifying and treating their behavioral health problems.

Juvenile Law Center works to ensure that youth in the justice system can obtain the treatment they need for rehabilitation without sacrificing their constitutional rights.  To that end, we have drafted model statutes and court rules and work with stakeholders to enact state legislation or court rules that limit the admissibility of such statements in delinquency proceedings.  Juvenile Law Center also litigates to prevent statements made during behavioral health treatment from being used against youth in trials.  For example, in In the Interest of C.R.O., Juvenile Law Center partnered with local counsel to successfully argue that youth should not be forced to incriminate themselves while undergoing court-ordered sex offender treatment.


1 Jennie L. Shufelt & Joseph J. Cocozza, Nat'l Ctr. For Mental Health & Juv. Just., Youth with Mental Health Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System: Results from a Multi-State Prevalence Study 2 (2006); Linda A. Teplin, Karen M. Abram, Gary M. McClennan, Mina K. Dulcan & Amy A. Mericle, Psychiatric Disorders in Youth in Juvenile Detention, 59 Archives Gen. Psychiatry 1133-43 (2002); Gail A. Wasserman, Larkin S. McReynolds, Susan J. Ko, Laura M. Katz & Jennifer R. Carpenter, Gender Differences in Psychiatric Disorders at Juvenile Probation Intake, 95 Amer. J. Pub. Health 131, 133-34 (2005); Gail A. Wasserman, Larkin S. McReynolds, Christopher P. Lucas, Prudence Fisher & Linda Santos, The Voice DISC-IV with Incarcerated Male Youth: Prevalence of Disorder, 41 J. Am. Acad. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 314, 317 (2002)
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).


Last updated: 2/10/2015

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