On Feb. 17, 2016, the Washington State Legislature changed the laws relating to community supervision in juvenile court to address the needs of juveniles who need more extensive mental health and/or chemical dependency treatment (see House Bill 2746).
Prior to the amendment, a juvenile sentence of community supervision included only community-based supervision. It was changed to include the possibility that the court can order the juvenile to engage in residential treatment (i.e., inpatient treatment) for mental health and/or substance abuse.
For the court to order inpatient treatment as a condition of community supervision, it must engage in an extensive assessment of the juvenile and find that the following five requirements are met:
- Inpatient treatment is necessary to rehabilitate the child.
- Inpatient treatment is necessary to protect the public or the child.
- Inpatient treatment is in the child’s best interest.
- The child has been given the opportunity to engage in less restrictive treatment and has been unable or unwilling to comply.
- Inpatient treatment is the least restrictive action consistent with the child’s needs and circumstances.
The court shall only order inpatient treatment if a funded bed is available. The costs associated with the treatment must be paid by the department. If a court orders residential treatment, it must hold a review hearing no later than 60 days after the youth begins the treatment. A review hearing must be held at least every 30 days thereafter, as long as the youth is still in inpatient treatment.
The change in law will likely be well received by some who feel that inpatient treatment will better serve juvenile offenders with more serious mental health or substance abuse issues. On the other hand, the law allows courts to potentially strip juveniles of their freedom to remain in their own community. Ultimately, the extensive findings that the court must record will help ensure that only those juveniles in truly dire circumstances will be court-ordered to enter inpatient treatment facilities against their will.