At the end of 2012, 15 states and the District of Columbia had “statutory provisions and/or court rules that generally prohibit the admission into evidence of statements made during intakes, preliminary interviews, or preliminary inquiries to court or probation officers at an adjudicatory hearing and/or criminal trial on the issue of guilt.” Two other states, New York and California hold that statements made at this stage to probation and juvenile court officers can not be admitted in later proceedings. Four other states prohibit admission of statements made at intake unless the juvenile has been made aware of his or her rights and has made a valid waiver of those rights. Although this is a move in the right direction, it leaves too many other states without protections in place against self-incrimination by juveniles.
With less than half the states having protections in place that allow juveniles to fully disclose past and current behaviors during required mental health evaluations, the goals of rehabilitation, treatment and utilizing the least restrictive, most beneficial plan for youth in the juvenile justice system are not being met. Attorneys and youth advocates have no choice but to advise their clients not to self-incriminate themselves and that leaves mental health professionals with incomplete and inaccurate assessments for youth that truly need services that could be offered. Those professionals in positions to assist youth need to address the deficiencies in states where protections are not in place. Utilizing legislation in the states with protections in place as models will help with the drafting and passing of laws that will protect and serve youth while at the same time hold them accountable for any laws they have broken. Upholding a child’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights does not mean that youth get a free ride to violate social rules and behave illegally. What it does mean is that juvenile justice professionals must have a systemic way of protecting rights and having meaningful assessments that increase successful placements. Successful placements that give youth the services they need to become functioning members of society align with our goals and are the best bet that children who become involved in the juvenile justice system, especially those who have been denied mental health services due to lack of resources, will get the help they need to grow to productive members of society.