Some 15,000 children with psychiatric disorders were incarcerated last year because no mental health services were available, says the New York Times. The figures were compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Government Reform in the first nationwide survey of juvenile detention centers. “The use of juvenile detention facilities to warehouse children with mental disorders is a serious national problem,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-Me.), who sought the survey with Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Cal.) The study, presented at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, found that children as young as 7 were incarcerated because of a lack of access to mental health care. More than 340 detention centers, two thirds of those responding to the survey, said youths with mental disorders were locked up because there was no place else for them to go while awaiting treatment. Seventy-one centers in 33 states said they were holding mentally ill youngsters with no charges. The 15,000 youths awaiting mental health services accounted for 8 percent of all youngsters in the responding detention centers.
Judge Ernestine Gray of New Orleans Juvenile Court testified that up to 85 percent of the youngsters who appeared before the court had mental health or drug problems. Leonard Dixon, director of the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility in Detroit, said mentally ill children were “more difficult to manage, more explosive and more easily agitated.” “Most juvenile detention centers,” he said, “do not have the luxury of separating youth with mental health problems from the general population.” In California, 27 centers reported unnecessary incarcerations of youths awaiting mental health services; 19 reported that some children had attempted suicide. Texas had 17 detention centers with children who could have been released if mental health services were available. New Jersey had 13, Florida and Illinois 7 each and New York 4.