Juvenile detention centers are serving as mental hospitals as an influx of psychiatrically ill youths threatens to overwhelm facilities not designed to treat them, says the Chicago Tribune. At the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, the nation’s largest such facility, the typical inmate is likely to be delusional, psychotic, depressed, manic or suffering anxiety disorders.
A recent federally funded study found that two out of three 10- to 18-year-old boys and nearly three out of four girls in the center have diagnosable psychiatric illnesses. The youngsters who have fallen through the cracks of the mental health system. The late ’80s and early ’90s saw budget cutters slash away at state and county facilities for mentally ill children.
Many who once might have received treatment wind up in juvenile detention when they commit crimes. Their conditions often worsen after that. Bereft of emotional support and lacking psychiatric help, many grow up to a life marred by violence, crime and lost potential. “Most people in the field feel that the problem of kids with mental health issues is probably the No. 1 problem in the juvenile justice system,” said Mark Soler of the Youth Law Center in Washington, D.C.
In the mid-’90s the detention center’s population nearly doubled to 800 inmates. It is now about 500, still slightly higher than the number of juveniles it was designed to hold. More than 100,000 juveniles are in detention nationwide.