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Feb. 11 2010 - 10:02 am | 46 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Children: Tossed in asylums, and abandoned

The story in today’s New York Times revealing the lack of mental health care for kids in prison is so shocking that my impulse is to unleash a string of bitter invective that would send readers fleeing and get me booted off even this welcoming and generous website.

How does one respond rationally to the anecdote of “a 15-year-old girl with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder and adjustment disorder…sent to a juvenile prison last February. Since then, she has not received proper mental health treatment, and has been restrained by the staff more than 15 times, her lawyers said.”

That’s a year ago. A child desperately in need of help has been, in essence, chained to the dungeon walls. These are not prisons. Let’s drop the euphemism (yes, in these circumstances, “prison” is a euphemism) and call them what they are: insane asylums, dumping grounds no more sophisticated than the Victorian asylums where the mentally ill were warehoused and ignored. These are not correctional facilities, they are not prisons, they are not hospitals. They are nothing more than places where we can put a wall between us and what we’re afraid of, and give no thought to the welfare of the children.

Where are the relief agencies? The Red Cross? Doctors without Borders? The United Nations?

Imagine your child seriously ill, troubled and confused about the cause and meaning of it all, locked away in some cinder-block hell, unable to get treatment for weeks or months at a time? Or seeing, according to the Times, “staff members at the jails who run group therapy sessions despite often having no qualifications beyond a high school degree.”

It would be nice to think that this exposure on the front of the Times would change things, but based on the initial response, that seems unlikely. Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, the state agency that administers the juvenile prisons, wouldn’t speak to the Times.

Her spokesman, hastily trying to provide some kind of response, said Carrión was hiring a chief psychiatrist. Say what? He wouldn’t even promise that this would be a staff psychiatrist; it could be simply another contract hire. And would this new hire work nights and weekends? Not likely.

The federal Department of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York have investigated and sharply criticized New York for not providing better care.

My outrage is tempered only by my concern for the kids. Tonight, at 9 or 10 pm, when you’re settling into your chair to post, or read, or catch a flick, think about the kids in New York jails who, with the fall of night, are entering a crisis, terrified of their demons, lashing out at perceived enemies, screaming and crying. Think about them being tied up by a couple of beefy security guards.

And think about them lying in the dark, unable to move, frightened, desperate and alone. So alone.


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    About Me

    Paul Raeburn is a journalist, author and blogger whose stories have appeared recently in The Huffington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and Psychology Today, among others.

    He is the author, most recently, of Acquainted with the Night, a memoir of raising children with depression and bipolar disorder. His next book is Why Fathers Matter, to be published in 2010 by Simon & Schuster. Raeburn is a former science editor at Business Week and The Associated Press.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 14
    Contributor Since: October 2009
    Location:New York City