‘Just as expensive as sending him to college’: Barriers and perceptions of treatment in justice-involved youth
Justice-involved youth have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) than the general population. Many do not connect with or complete treatment, leading to recidivism. This qualitative study explores perceptions and barriers to treatment in this population.
Justice-involved youth participating in a larger study focused on access to SUD treatment were interviewed about available treatment and justice system involvement (e.g. Was there any type of treatment that you were interested in that was not available?). Grounded theory informed the interview and analysis. Eight complete dyad groups (youth and a guardian) and 3 incomplete groups (total N=19) were interviewed by phone. Inclusion criteria were youth aged 14-17 involved in the justice system that screened positive for SUD. Youth sample was 36% male. The study was IRB approved.
Major guardian themes include lack of communication by the justice system about treatment, perceptions that their youth is low risk (‘I don’t agree… but… I’d rather her do that than drink a bunch of alcohol, blackout, and crash and kill someone’s family‘), unwillingness for treatment by youth, and limited program availability. Guardians’ largest barrier to treatment was cost. Youth barriers include willingness and time with often low perceived usefulness of treatment.
The issues of treatment for justice-involved youth is multifaceted. Youth and guardian perceptions were different and did not always match known records about the youth. One universal complaint was a lack of communication between the justice system and guardians. Further examination is needed on current policy implementation to address this concern.