Federal Help for Mentally Ill NY Youth in Custody

“Until now, the state did not have a single full-time psychiatrist on staff to treat youthful offenders.”  This is the most startling sentence in this NYTimes article detailing the settlement which allows the federal government to oversee four of New York’s juvenile prisons.

New York’s juvenile prisons are the place where troubled kids are locked away to become even more troubled adults.  Children whose parents have lost control of their children can petition the court to have their children declared Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS).

Most of the children in the juvenile prison system are foster children. Many have endured abuse.  The majority of them are on psychotropic medication (via New York Magazine).  Most of the residents of these prisons are diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, yet up until now there has not been a single psychiatrist on staff.

The settlement was reached several years after a 15 year old emotionally disturbed youth died after being forcefully restrained by guards.  Investigators reported numerous incidents of injuries after physical force was used to discipline the children, including reports of broken bones, broken teeth and concussions.

Hopefully, besides employing full-time psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health professionals to oversee medication regiments and counseling, the state will continue to shut down these prisons and replace them with smaller centers near the families of the children.

My heart aches for these children.  Given a substandard education and an indifferent upbringing, warehoused with no counseling, they are given no hope of a better future.  Hopefully, the settlement reached today placing these prisons under federal oversight, limiting the amount of physical force guards may use and shutting down and replacing these warehouses with smaller community residences will go a long way to alleviate their suffering and give these children a chance to become productive members of our community.

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