Masters Thesis

Restoring competency to youth in the juvenile justice system in rural areas in northern California

Juvenile Justice has become a complex and growing system in the United States. What began as a rehabilitative system is increasingly becoming more punitive. As this transformation is occurring, protections and new regulations have not been implemented at the same pace. This has left youth vulnerable and locked out of the protections they deserve. This project proposed a draft protocol for one county, based on established protocols, recommended practices and an ecological perspective on youth engagement. Considerations in this protocol include: brain development, developmental maturity, learning style, viewing competency as a relative term, malingering and implementing services in a rural area. Youth across the United States are being incarcerated at higher rates. One of the protections adopted in Juvenile Justice is the Competency to Stand Trial (CST). Federal law establishes the requirements for competency, however the implementation process at state and county levels varies widely. The under developed protocol leaves our youth and community at risk of negative consequences; no youth should ever be unjustly incarcerated. The protocol of this project serves as a base for practitioners applying competency restoration services. I strongly recommend that the local juvenile justice system, evaluators and mental health work collaboratively to establish a more detailed and in-depth competency restoration protocol.