For more than a month, a 9-year-old Georgia boy with mental illness lived in a concrete cell where the razor wire outside his tiny window blocked his view of the road beyond, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Children like J.R. often get left behind in Georgia. Even though an estimated 86,000 Georgia children suffer from a mental disorder serious enough to disrupt their lives, the state has no comprehensive system for treating those whose needs are not met by insurance. The newspaper reports on “a system that places the youngest and most vulnerable in one of society’s harshest environments. Every night in Georgia, hundreds of children with serious mental disorders lay their heads down behind bars.”
“We’re locking children up in an effort to treat them, either because other alternatives were tried or there weren’t any,” said Fulton Juvenile Court Judge Sanford Jones. Of nearly 29,000 Georgia children locked up every year, as many as half have a diagnosed psychological problem. They include children and teens with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, borderline personality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, and a host of other mental disorders, found a Journal-Constitution analysis of juvenile justice data. “The juvenile justice system has become the mental health provider for children and adolescents by default,” said Orlando Martinez, former state juvenile justice commissioner.