The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and Altha Stewart, MD, director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth at UTHSC, hosted a two-day strategic planning session for local leaders and juvenile justice professionals aimed at improving services for young people in the Shelby County justice system.
The conference addressed the challenges faced in Shelby County in coordinating various systems that deal with young people involved in the justice system. It also looked at incorporating trauma-informed practices into the delivery of services, as well as at methods to improve access to appropriate community resources for justice-involved youth and their families. Gaps in needed services, and ways to improve family and youth engagement in improving the system were also discussed.
“This is especially important for the significant number of youth with mental health and trauma-related issues that are involved in the juvenile justice system,” Dr. Stewart said. “As we all know, when these systems collide, they present significant barriers to these youth and families obtaining needed treatment and support services.”
Dr. Stewart, who was named president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association last week, was recruited to UTHSC in 2015 by David Stern, MD, Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine, to lead the college’s Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth. The center aims to reduce the number of young people in the juvenile justice system by addressing the trauma and exposure to violence that most often contribute to the behavior that lands them there. Receiving proper treatment for mental and behavioral problems will improve their lives and boost the odds they will stay out of the justice system.
The meeting this week reflects the ongoing mission of the university and the College of Medicine to positively impact the health of all citizens in the community. “The university is providing a place where this kind of activity can happen,” Dr. Stern said.
The conference was designed to bring together local participants to determine areas where immediate steps could be taken to design a more cohesive, integrated approach to service delivery, and to set local priorities for change.
“This process will certainly improve the early identification of youth with mental health and trauma-related issues coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, increase effective service linkage, reduce the likelihood of young people recycling through the justice system, enhance community safety, and improve quality of life for the youth, their family and the community,” Dr. Stewart said.