Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mentally ill kids warehoused at TYC

Just like in the adult prison system which warehouses tens of thousands of mentally ill offenders, the Texas Youth Commission has struggled for years with how to manage mentally ill youth, who make up between 38-50% of incarcerated kids according to an article by Lisa Sandberg in this morning's Houston Chronicle ("Mentally ill posing challenge for TYC," April 22).

Reports Sandberg, of those identified as mentally impaired, only 17% were committed to TYC for violent felonies, and another 3% for violent misdemeanors. Others more closely fit the profile of a young man who has been on suicide watch at TYC since the day he arrived there, who
had two brushes with the law, including taking his father's car without permission, before being sentenced to TYC last year for driving without a license and violating curfew.
It's almost unfathomable to me that those offenses would earn incarceration in a youth prison - all of them, if truth be told, I committed myself as a teenager. But it's likely the judge chose that option because the locals couldn't handle the kid's real problems. The Chronicle reported that "Psychiatrists hired by TYC diagnosed him with major depression, bipolar and schizoaffective disorders and drug dependence."

For many such kids, incarceration makes their condition worse and therefore makes the public less safe when they're finally, inevitably released, say those in the know:

Until she resigned under pressure last week, Corrine Alvarez-Sanders, TYC's assistant deputy executive director for rehabilitative services, had worked with young inmates for 15 years and said too many who are mentally ill don't get appropriate treatment and leave in worse condition than when they arrived.

Secured lockups are appropriate for some mentally ill offenders with violent tendencies, but every one of those would be better served in smaller residential treatment centers, she said.

"I don't want to say that all of our facilities are producing outcomes that are worse. But what's clear to us is the interventions don't match the specialized needs that are present," Alvarez-Sanders said.

All too often, poorly trained staff extend the TYC terms of mentally ill inmates, confusing a mental health issue with a bad attitude or anti-social behavior, she said.

The adult system faces same issue of warehousing the mentally ill, not just TYC. This is how society has chosen to handle mental illness across the board - through the criminal justice system. To my mind it's an awful disgrace.


Anonymous said...

This is very true. TYC has become a repository for mentally ill and mentally retarded who are often too difficult manage or control. It became easier just to ship them to TYC and forget them. In many cases these students pose significant behavior disturbances. With out special accommodations or considerations they languish in TYC because they can not successfully accomplish the behavioral component of resocialization.

Such populations require specially trained staff who know how to gradually shape behavior and who can recognize the difference between behavior that may be related to mental illness, behavior that is just teenage, and behavior that is truly criminal in nature.

Anonymous said...

Everyone got quiet... this is an eerie quiet....

Anonymous said...

Mentally ill children in TYC is a major problem. We currently have two different populations housed together in TYC which require vastly different modes of treatment. The two populations should not be housed together. The mentally ill youth will become the victims of the youth with behavior problems. I have been the caseworker for the “Little Boys Dorm” at the Marlin TYC Unit for several years. Many of the smaller younger youth have mental issues, which the referring county did not have social services to handle the child locally. The funding cuts to MHMR were the starting point of mentally ill children being committed to TYC in mass. The legislature made the funding cuts to MHMR which started a chain of events that resulted in mentally ill children coming to TYC to become victims instead of getting the help they need.

When Jim Dunnam and some of his fellow Democrats toured the Marlin TYC Unit I had a chance to speak to them. My main point dealt with treatment and medication issues for the mentally ill children sent to TYC. If mentally ill youth were going to continue to be sent to TYC, they needed to be sent directly to RTCs in their area, operated by TYC, not put in general population. I spoke about the MHMR funding cuts and how they impacted the mentally ill youth in their communities, they are being housed in the youth prison system.

Jim Dunnam and his fellow Democrats were the only people who have come to talk with the people who actually work with the TYC children. I don’t mean a short walk through of the facility. They had in depth conversations with front line workers without administration standing around listening. They all seemed very concerned about what was going on and how to fix it. These are law makers you can work with! They came in letting us know they needed input unlike some of the self proclaimed experts. Thank you Jim Dunnam for taking the time to come visit with us!

Anthony Mikulastik
Case Manager III
Dorm 6A
Marlin TYC Unit