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OfflineAdamist
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Thousands of Mentally Ill NJ Teens Jailed Illegally
    #3422976 - 11/29/04 02:33 PM (12 years, 11 days ago)

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/23/nyregion/23child.html?oref=login

Hundreds of children and teenagers held in juvenile detention facilities in New Jersey are there illegally, kept for months without basic medical care in locked quarters that are severely overcrowded and leave them vulnerable to episodes of violence, according to a report by the independent monitor of the state's child welfare system.

The report, issued by the Office of the Child Advocate, which was created last year after the state's child welfare system scandal, is based on a yearlong investigation that had access to confidential government records.

It amounts to a damning portrait of the 17 county detention facilities that together house more than 10,000 adolescents a year.

The report found that fully a quarter of the youths held in detention facilities, many of them suffering from mental health problems, were there simply because the state could not find a more appropriate setting, such as a hospital or foster home. And in what the report called a "cruel irony,'' scores of them stayed four months longer on average than the sentences served by the adolescents who had been sent there for committing crimes.

The counties, according to the report, often failed to provide the most troubled youths in the facilities with rudimentary mental health care. Evaluations often were not done in some county juvenile jails; in others, mental health care was provided by drug and alcohol counselors, not doctors.

State officials acknowledged the problems yesterday and said significant reforms were being introduced and had already reduced the population in detention.

Nevertheless, the report offered recent chilling examples of cases that underscored the chaos and damage suffered by some of the adolescents in the detention centers.

One boy, over eight weeks in one of the centers, attempted suicide five times, often showered with his clothes on and threatened workers, but was taken off suicide watch by a social worker. That night, he was found trying to hang himself from a light fixture, using a piece of elastic from his underwear. A 16-year-old attempted suicide 14 times before being hospitalized.

"Thousands of kids are being inappropriately waylaid into detention when they need community-based mental health services,'' said Kevin M. Ryan, the child advocate. "The vast majority of the mentally ill kids are in detention for some minor offense like stealing a bike or getting into a fight. During the course of doing this report, we saw scores of them slowly and painfully come apart as they failed to receive treatment.''

Mr. Ryan said he had been particularly struck by the case of one teenager at the detention center in Union County. The youth had tried to kill himself four times in one month, once by slicing his wrists with a broken plastic cup, once by swallowing a screw, and yet again by drinking the chemicals from an ice pack.

"Putting kids like this in detention is akin to placing an asthmatic child in a closet with pollen and asbestos,'' he said. "It is a given they are going to get sicker.''

The inappropriate but frequent placement of mentally ill adolescents in detention facilities is a national problem. According to a 1999 report by the surgeon general, one in five youngsters in detention centers across the country have serious emotional problems, just as in New Jersey. Still, the child advocate's report points to long-term systemic failures within the state that have exacerbated the impact of such incarceration on adolescents.

In one measure, the report found that juveniles are often placed in detention centers that have already reached maximum capacity, a practice Mr. Ryan called a flagrant violation of state law. In 2003 in Camden County, the juvenile detention center had more than twice as many youths as legally allowed inside its walls on a daily basis.

Over the years, the administrator of the Camden County center, Mary T. Previte, has repeatedly protested the overcrowding, calling the conditions a "tinderbox'' that could lead to violence and sexual assault.


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OfflineEkstaza
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Re: Thousands of Mentally Ill NJ Teens Jailed Illegally [Re: Adamist]
    #3423182 - 11/29/04 03:48 PM (12 years, 11 days ago)

Quote:

Adamist said:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/23/nyregion/23child.html?oref=login

In one measure, the report found that juveniles are often placed in detention centers that have already reached maximum capacity, a practice Mr. Ryan called a flagrant violation of state law. In 2003 in Camden County, the juvenile detention center had more than twice as many youths as legally allowed inside its walls on a daily basis.

Over the years, the administrator of the Camden County center, Mary T. Previte, has repeatedly protested the overcrowding, calling the conditions a "tinderbox'' that could lead to violence and sexual assault.



I have witnessed this first hand when I visited a juvenile detention center on a college field trip. Kids were housed in cells roughly 6'x5' 3-4 at a time. There was one cot and thin matresses for the other occupants to arrange on the floor, leaving some to virtually sleep beneath the toilet that was also in the cell.

We got to talk to one 10 year old who had been put in solitary confinement because he had beat up a 14 year old that had thrown his socks in the toilet and pissed on them and at the same time splashing urine on his head. That 10 yr old should never have been even put in that situation.


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