Many Children With Mental Illnesses Improperly Held in Detention Centers in 2003, Report Finds
About 15,000 children with mental illnesses were improperly incarcerated in detention centers in 2003 because of a lack of access to treatment, according to a report released on Wednesday at a Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs hearing, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 7/8). For the report, the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Government Reform surveyed 524 juvenile detention centers nationwide in 2003 and found that 33 states detained children with mental illnesses who faced no criminal charges. The report, requested by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), also found that 2,000 children with mental illnesses -- 7% of all children in detention centers -- remain incarcerated because of a lack of access to treatment. In addition, the report found that 117 detention centers incarcerated children with mental illnesses younger than age 11 (Brogan, USA Today, 7/8). The report also found that 66% of detention centers said they incarcerated children with mental illnesses "because there was no place else for them to go," the Times reports (New York Times, 7/8). Some witnesses who testified at the hearing said that children with mental illnesses often are incarcerated in detention centers because their parents do not have access to treatment in schools or lack health coverage for such treatment (USA Today, 7/8).
Dr. Ken Martinez of the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth and Families said that the report highlights "the criminalization of mental illness" as "juvenile detention centers have become de facto psychiatric hospitals for mentally ill youth" (New York Times, 7/8). Judge Ernestine Gray of New Orleans Juvenile Court, who testified at the hearing, said, "It is a terrible miscarriage of justice to detain or incarcerate children in order that they might be able to have a chance of getting any mental health services." She added, "Our detention facilities should not be used as substitute mental hospitals" (USA Today, 7/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.