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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Criminalizing Distrubed Young Offenders

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 7th 2008

Last week the New York Times ran an interesting editorial about young adolescents who are emotionally disturbed and who commit minor crimes. Most of these young people are sent to Juvenile Detention Centers as a result of their crimes. Once there these young people undergo very careful training in how to become full fledged criminals who then go on to commit crimes that are much worse. At least in New York City, according to the editorial, these young offenders are now being referred to community based programs where they receive mental health services. The main point is that these young offenders are extremely low risk to the community and have committed minor crimes.

It is difficult to disagree with the times assessment that treatment is far better for these emotionally troubled young people than detention centers where they are socialized into the world of crime.

This issue is closely related to an essay that will soon be posted on Mental Help Net about the ways in which adult mentally ill people find their way into jails and prisons rather than hospitals and treatment facilities.

It just seems so logical and realistic to treat the mentally ill of all ages for their emotional problems and leave the jails and prisons for the real criminals. Am I missing something?

Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

treatment vs punshiment - Vincent Hennessy, MA, LMHC, LPC, NCC - Jan 1st 2009

There are many people in jails and prison who have mental health issues, many know the difference between right and wrong. Many of the teens I work with have many crimes, if they were adults would be place in prisons for many years. We need to find a way to provide treatment therapy to re-parent and train these individuals to assist they to function better in society. We are running out of space in jail and prisons at the same time many of these same inmates are being release daily with little or no treatment on their core issues. We have to many people in jails than we have in colleges and universities, that does not make any sense to me and that in itself seem wrong to me. We are the most advance country on earth and we can not find a way to correct this major problme.

Vincent Hennessy

reply to raping - - Sep 17th 2008

I agree that this must appear barbaric that the young boy is still able to attend the same school, and I understand that the young girl and her family must be furious, having a 5 year old girl myself... however, think about that young boy, at the age of 10 how can he possibly know what he is doing when he inserts his penis into a young child?! If I were given the opportunity I would bet money that this child has either been sexually abused himself, have been a victim of early sexualization or eroticization through viewing others having inercourse or watching pornographic videos. A 10 year old does not know how to do this all his own without some outside influence from the parents, society, school, somewhere! So I agree that he should not be punished but instead assessed, find out what is going on for this young boy, sending him to jail isn't going to help him, and while I understand it must be hard for the victim and her family to see him in the community, he needs rehabilitation much more than he needs punishment.

 And as a side note, where I live he could never be punished for that because he cannot be held criminally respnsible for an act committed before his 12th birthday.

Who's to say what is minor offence??? - - May 6th 2008

I just wanted to point out that some offenders need to be rehabilitated and not left to prey on the innocent unchecked. Currently we are dealing with a situation where a neighborhood boy raped a 5 yr old at the age of 10 himself. We are being told that he cannot be prosecuted until his 12th birthday according to the laws in our state. He still attends the same school as the child that he victimized. I think that it is absurd

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