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Preventing Suicide in the Juvenile Justice System


Denise Juliano-Bult, M.S.W.
Division of Services and Intervention Research


The goal of this initiative is to support research on how to use the structure and legal leverage of the juvenile justice system to detect and prevent suicidality in youth who come in contact with that system.


Youth in the juvenile justice system are at higher risk for suicide; the adjusted risk of suicide for youth in juvenile justice residential facilities is three times higher than for the general population of adolescents, and the risk for those in justice-related community settings is estimated to be even greater. Effective detection and intervention strategies that can be sustainably delivered at various components of the juvenile justice system are likely to have significant impact in reducing suicidality and increasing engagement in mental health treatment. Systemic intervention points within the juvenile justice system include: intake interview; pre-trial detention; juvenile or family court hearings; court disposition; probation, placement or release to community.

This initiative responds to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Prioritized Research Agenda for Suicide Prevention , produced by the Research Prioritization Task Force, and also addresses the recommendations of the Action Alliance’s Youth in Contact with the Juvenile Justice System Task Force.  The initiative is also aligned with the NIMH Strategic Plan for Research, and in particular, Strategies 4.2 (Establish research-practice partnerships to improve dissemination, implementation, and continuous improvement of evidence-based mental health services) and 4.3 (Develop innovative service delivery models to improve dramatically the outcomes of mental health services received in diverse communities and populations).  The initiative aims to support research on developing and testing optimal ways to capitalize on the system’s structure, functions, and staff to detect and prevent suicidal behavior by high-risk youth at various points of system contact to: 1) assure the safety of youth while in the system’s care; and 2) facilitate ongoing treatment and services to prevent future suicidality.  Long-term goals include the broad implementation within the juvenile system of risk detection strategies and effective individual suicide risk-reduction plans that follow individuals through various system involvements and settings, with continuity after transition out of the system.

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1Gallagher CA, Dobrin A. Deaths in juvenile justice residential facilities. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006 Jun;38(6):662-8.
2Snyder H. Is suicide more common inside or outside of juvenile facilities? Corrections Today, February 2005, 84-85.