Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Let's keep our mentally ill youth out of detention'

The Houston Chronicle published a notable column today titled "Let's keep our mentally ill youth out of detention," by former Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department Executive Director Tom Brooks and Dr. Lynda Frost with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. Among their more salient observations:
It's time to set our sights on lowering the number of youth entering the juvenile justice system, and mental health is a critical factor that cannot be ignored. Nationally, a large proportion of youth in the juvenile justice system — between 50 percent and 75 percent - have at least one mental health condition. In Harris County, the estimate is 52 percent.

Why is mental health a factor? When left undiagnosed and untreated, a mental illness or emotional disturbance can cause symptoms and behaviors that get adolescents in trouble in school, at home or in the community. Parents, teachers and other adults who work with kids may not realize that negative or delinquent behavior can be a sign of mental illness. Even if they suspect mental illness, many families don't have the insurance, money or eligibility to get help.

Zero-tolerance policies in schools often criminalize adolescent behavior tied to mental illness. A report, to be released soon by law center Texas Appleseed, says minor infractions such as cursing, disrupting class and truancy used to be handled by the school principal but are now treated as misdemeanors or worse. Earlier reports from Appleseed revealed that a disproportionate share of minority and special education students are being suspended and expelled from Texas public schools for noncriminal, nonviolent offenses. 

Severe responses such as ticketing, suspension and expulsion inappropriately punish and alienate youth, especially those with untreated mental illness, and increase their chances of dropping out or becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Instead, what many of these young people need is services, such as assessment, diagnosis and treatment, at home, in school or in the community. Studies show this approach leads to better outcomes for the child, the family and the community. It's also less expensive than putting youth in the juvenile justice system.


Prison Doc said...

This idea seems to have a great deal of merit. My concerns are how to supply a couple of critical factors: (1) interested, engaged parents and (2) an adequate public mental health system. Individual counties or regions may differ but on balance, Texas MHMR tends to overdiagnose and over-treat most clients. Labelling angry, adjustment disorder adolescents as "bipolar" or "schizoaffective" when they don't meet DSM criteria, and/or starting them on big-gun antipsychotic drugs damages their futures as much as a TYC incarceration does. Inappropriate prescribing, which seems to happen more often than not, merely reinforces the idea that "if I don't feel good, I just need to take a drug". Unfortunately behavioral therapy, which does work, is labor intensive and expensive.

Anonymous said...

As usual, in your extreme permissiveness, you ignore the reality of situations.

NEW YORK (WPIX) — A pregnant Bronx teacher suffered a miscarriage Wednesday after she was accidentally struck while attempting to break up a fight between two students.

The teacher, identified as 27-year-old Lissedia Batista, had just started her Spanish class lesson at Exploration Academy in the Claremont section of the Bronx when the incident unraveled.

As class was underway, witnesses say a student walked in about five minutes late and approached another seated student, demanding that he get out of his desk. When the seated student refused, a fight erupted.

Batista, who was 4-months pregnant, quickly intervened, attempting to break the students up. As the altercation escalated, the fifth grade teacher was accidentally elbowed in the stomach and immediately fell to the ground, reports said.

Batista was rushed to North Central Hospital where she miscarried.

The two students involved in the fight have since been suspended. It wasn't immediately clear if any assault charges will be filed.

Anonymous said...

Does this include kids diagnosed with ADHD or Depression? How about kids diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Those kids diagnosed with severe mental health disordors should be screened carefully. But even those kids may have to remain in detention if they pose a significant risk to the community.

Don't forget the Tyler kid that was released from TYC because of mental health issues.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:08, what about this post exhibits my "extreme permissiveness"? It basically quoted an op ed from GOP politicians without commentary. Also, the newsclip you quote seems to have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

10:33, if resources were unlimited, unlimited detention might be an option. Since they're not, society has to figure out how to deal with most mentally ill youth in community based settings.

Prison Doc, your point about overdiagnosis is well-taken. FWIW, I read an provocative blog post related to that subject not long ago.

Anonymous said...

We already know how to deal with mentally ill youth. They are diagnosed, prescribed medication, and attend counseling once / twice a week. Unfortuneatley without much success.

These kids are a product of their environment. You can't take them out of the environment a couple of time a week and expect change. These kids are physcially, verbally, emotionally, and many times sexually abused by those that are suppose to love them and protect them. Of course they have mental health issues!! The only fix is removing them from the environment!! There is no other soultion.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution. Close all of TYC.

Anonymous said...

Some of us think we should protect the public as well. To only show concern for violent youth, to pretend they are the victims and to ignore their behavior is foolish in the extreme.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:30 writes, "To only show concern for violent youth, to pretend they are the victims and to ignore their behavior is foolish in the extreme."

Please, quote back to us where you think this was done. What specifically are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

11:18, you have clearly shown your lack of objectiveness or consideration for anything to do with TYC. TYC is not the focus of this post.

As with most juvenile justice topics the scenario is painted too broadly. Just because a youth has been diagnosed with a DSM-IV diagnosis does not mean that their behavior is the result of their mental health issue. I think the issue needs to be addressed. I think they should be required to conduct psychological evaluations prior to extending youth detentions beyond the 10 or 14 day time frame.

Anonymous said...

Getting youth in the juvie system greatly increases the risks of getting them into adult prison. Fighting is now an offense that gets kids in the system. I remember way back when--before most of the readers of this blog were even born, probably including Grits--two boys in my high school got into a pretty serious set-to, leading to fisticuffs. The HS principal finally broke it up. That was the end of it. Both of those boys settled in their home town; one was in business here his whole life, still part time; the other had a successful business and was city mayor for several terms. I think most, even the hard-ass readers, would agree that that was a much preferable outcome over getting them in the juvie and/or TDCJ system.

Charles in Tulia

Prison Doc said...

Gotta say Amen to Charles in Tulia. I think most of us with grey hair know that "all" adolescents have their problems and adjustments--but unless their bad activites are truly Criminal, I don't see how we are doing them any favors by giving them a psychiatric diagnosis, medicating them, and locking them up.

Anonymous said...

The problem of letting mentally ill youth slip through the cracks begins in public school. It often starts with a learning disability that goes unnoticed.