Youth justice system should be viewed through public health lens


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – More than 65 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system in the United States meet the criteria for a disability, a rate three times higher than that of the general population. Research also shows that the more serious and prolonged a youth’s interaction with the justice system becomes, the more likely he or she is to die prematurely.


    Juvenile justice reform, therefore, is not only a law enforcement concern, it is a public health concern, said Matthew C. Aalsma, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and psychology and director of the Juvenile Forensic Psychology Clinic at Indiana University.

    Aalsma will deliver the 15th Annual Doctor Elliott Podoll Adolescent Medicine Lecture, sponsored by the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics. The lecture will be at 8 a.m., Friday, Dec. 11, at Wade Mountz Auditorium, second floor of Norton Hospital, 200 E. Chestnut St. Admission is free.

    Youth involved in the justice system “are a vulnerable population due to their high rates of mental illness, physical health problems and early mortality,” Aalsma said. “Juvenile justice reform that decreases the reliance on incarceration and improves behavioral health and medical services are very important public health initiatives.”

    Trained as a pediatric psychologist, Aalsma focuses on research with vulnerable populations, including youth in the mental health and juvenile justice systems. His current research agenda includes exploring system-wide and individual efforts to improve the utilization of mental and physical health care for children and adolescents.

    As director of the Juvenile Forensic Psychology Clinic, Aalsma oversees the provision of comprehensive psychologic assessments for court-involved youth. “The clinic provides thorough and fair assessments for vulnerable populations and trains psychology Ph.D. students in conducting juvenile forensic assessments,” he said.

    The Podoll lectureship was established by the family of the late Elliott Podoll, M.D., a longtime Louisville pediatrician and clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville and a local pioneer in the provision of appropriate health care services for adolescents. The yearly lectureship brings an expert in the field of adolescent medicine to UofL in the spirit of what Podoll cared about: an increased awareness and development of the skills necessary to improve the lives of young people in the region.

    For additional information, contact the UofL Department of Pediatrics at 502-852-8600.



    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.