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Most Juvenile Offenders Use Drugs, Alcohol

Only 3.6 Percent Receive Help for Problems


Updated April 29, 2014

Four of every five children and teen arrestees in state juvenile justice systems are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit having substance abuse and addiction problems, or share some combination of these characteristics, according to a new report released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The 177-page report of the five-year study, Criminal Neglect: Substance Abuse, Juvenile Justice and The Children Left Behind, is the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of substance abuse and state juvenile justice systems. The report found that 1.9 million of 2.4 million juvenile arrests had substance abuse and addiction involvement and that only 68,600 juveniles receive substance abuse treatment.

"Instead of helping, we are writing off these young Americans," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "We are releasing them without attending to their needs for substance abuse treatment and other services, punishing them without providing help to get back on track. If the Congress, the governors and the presidential candidates are serious about leaving no child behind, we must end the criminal neglect of these children who so desperately need our help."

System Must Address Juvenile Needs

"I have been there. I have witnessed the deplorable conditions forced upon these young people," added Charles W. Colson, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims and their families. "The system must be changed to address the needs of these juveniles and prevent them from living a life crime and drug addiction."

The report reveals that drug and alcohol abuse is implicated in 64 percent of violent offenses, 72 percent of property offenses and 81 percent of assaults, vandalism and disorderly conduct.

"Juvenile justice systems were originally conceived as institutions to help young offenders get on the path to law abiding lives," said Califano. "As a result of their failure to address these problems, they have become colleges of criminality, paving the way to further crimes and adult incarceration for many of their graduates. We have 51 different systems of juvenile injustice with no national standards of practice or accountability."

92 Percent Tested Positive for Marijuana

Other notable findings in this report include:

  • At least 30 percent of adults in prison for felony crimes were incarcerated as juveniles.

  • Ninety-two percent of arrested juveniles who tested positive for drugs, tested positive for marijuana; 14.4 percent, for cocaine.

  • Up to three-quarters of incarcerated 10 to 17 year-olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

  • As many as eight out of 10 incarcerated juveniles suffer from learning disabilities.

  • Compared to juveniles who have not been arrested, those who have been arrested once in the past year are: more than twice as likely to have used alcohol; more than 3.5 times likelier to have used marijuana; more than three times likelier to have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes; more than seven times likelier to have used Ecstasy; more than nine times likelier to have used cocaine and more than 20 times likelier to have used heroin.

  • The arrest rate for female juveniles increased almost 7.4 percent between 1991 and 2000 while the arrest rate for male juveniles decreased almost 18.9 percent.

  • The arrest rate for black juveniles is more than 1.5 times the rate for white juveniles.

Based on the report's findings, the CASA report calls for a complete overhaul of the juvenile justice system to assure that each child receives a comprehensive assessment of needs, substance abuse treatment and other appropriate services.

Part Two: Treatment Could Reduce Costs

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