Forensic mental health assessments of juvenile misdemeanor cases involving demoralization (status offenses) and delinquency

Danuta Rode, Joanna Kabzińska, Magdalena Rode, Ewa Habzda-Siwek, Daniel Boduszek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The role of evidence-based psychological knowledge in cases of juvenile offending is essential to make appropriate decisions relating to youth who violate legal or social norms, as it carries implications for treatment, intervention and practice. Psychological expert opinions therefore need to meet high formal and methodological requirements while maintaining ethical standards. The purpose of this study is to investigate psychological expert opinions in cases of juvenile misbehavior reported to regional courts in Poland. Juvenile court proceedings concern cases of demoralization and/or delinquent offenses. Demoralization is a legal concept described in the Act of June 9, 2022 on juvenile support and resocialization. This concept was not defined; it was only described through examples of behaviors indicating demoralization. These include the following: violations of the principles of community life; evading compulsory education or schooling; use of alcohol, narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their precursors, substitutes or new psychoactive substances; and prostitution. 

Design/methodology/approach: To reach these goals, court records of juvenile cases in six district courts (N = 253) were gathered and analyzed. A semistructured questionnaire was used to examine the cases in which psychologists were appointed and to analyze the procedures used by these experts for assessing adolescents and their families. 

Findings: Findings revealed that family judges appoint psychologists both in cases of “demoralization” (i.e. status offenses) and in cases of juvenile delinquency. The opinions were delivered by psychologists who were mostly members of diagnostic teams. Results indicate that such opinions generally comply with the minimal standards recommended by the Ministry of Justice, yet a few problems were observed with the determination of levels of demoralization. 

Originality/value: The limitations of diagnostic tools used by psychologists are discussed, and recommendations for future practice are provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-195
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date21 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

Cite this