For adults the issues can be more complex, but for kids they're pretty simple: Criminalizing mental health problems only makes sense from a bureaucratic perspective (to get the person access to treatment), not from any viable theory of justice anyone could possibly describe.
Last week the Houston Chronicle's Sarah Viren published some astonishing data ("Survey of youth in custody find half have mental health problems," May 8):
These are pretty astonishing data, and a lot higher than already disturbing earlier estimates. As Scott Hickey from the Harris County MHMR authority reported in a presentation last year, when "Harris County matched mental health records with the juvenile probation rolls, they found 24.8% of kids matched." So a more thorough vetting of kids for mental illness, attempting to diagnose those who weren't already plugged into the system, nearly doubled that figure!
Nearly half of the youths locked up in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center suffer from mental health problems — far more than the estimated 20 percent with mental disorders in the general youth population — figures released Thursday show.
These youngsters, mostly teenagers, have been diagnosed with maladies including bipolar and attention deficit disorders, according to data compiled by a group of organizations studying the issue. Nearly 20 percent have severe emotional problems, the data show, and a quarter had never been diagnosed previously. ...
Researchers and juvenile justice workers have long noted a correlation between mental health issues and delinquency. In Harris County, however, juvenile offenders held in the detention center were not routinely psychologically evaluated until last year.
"When I go out and speak or just have conversations with the general public, they just don't realize that there are that many kids," said Harvey Hetzel, head of the probation department. "It's high and people need to realize that."
With the help of private foundation grants and public dollars, Operation Redirect spent the past year testing close to 3,500 juveniles in detention, or about 90 percent of those in lock-up awaiting a court hearing. That's up from 10 percent to 15 percent tested the previous year.
Identified problems ranged from mood to psychotic disorders for kids arrested for crimes such as theft, drug possession and violence against a family member.
Judge Mike Schneider, the newest member of the juvenile courts, said his cases frequently involve kids hampered by their mental issues.
"One of the things we see is either kids who commit offenses or violate their probation when they make the decision on their own to stop taking the medication that they are supposed to take," he said.
Of the youths with severe emotional disorders in juvenile detention, 22 percent had been physically abused and 12 percent were abused sexually, the new data show. More than half have experienced some form of traumatic loss.
Schneider said the county has options for those with severe problems, but could use more. Operation Redirect members voted Thursday to fund a pilot program, used successfully in other cities including Dallas, which works with mentally ill kids and their families.
I asked my friends over at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition - Leah Pinney and Isela Gutierrez - what resources they knew of that might help make sense of this figure, and they turned me onto a lengthy report on the identification and treatment of youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system (pdf), and pointed out this short YouTube video by one of the report's authors.
Thanks to Leah and Isela for sending along the extra info. I've not had a chance to read the report they mentioned, but wanted to make it available for those working on these issues. Perhaps I'll have more to say about this topic after looking over it more carefully.