Report: Ohio should move mentally ill young adults out of juvenile detention centers quickly

From: The Republic
Jan 6th 2012, by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state should transfer mentally ill juvenile inmates to psychiatric facilities as soon as possible and find money for their treatment, according to a new report on the status of Ohio’s youth prison system.

The Department of Youth Services holds some of the most acutely mentally ill youth in the state, who would be transferred to more appropriate psychiatric treatment facilities if they were hospitalized or in other settings outside detention, the report said.

The report filed in federal court Thursday also said repeatedly placing mentally ill youth in seclusion affects decisions about whether they should be held beyond the end of their sentences.

Under a court settlement, Youth Services must “strive to prevent deterioration or exacerbation of mental health symptoms and needless isolation for behaviors caused by mental health issues,” according to the report by court-appointed monitors Will Harrell and Terry Schuster.

Youth Services and a state interagency committee on mental health and juvenile justice are looking at long-term fixes. Thursday’s report raised the point of more immediate action.

The state said it “provides comprehensive behavioral health services” to youth including two mental health units for boys and one for girls, each staffed with full-time psychologists and social workers, according to DYS spokeswoman Andrea Kruse.

Ohio has procedures to move mentally ill offenders to psychiatric hospitals, Kruse said, but added: “because of the violent behavior that many of the youth present, it is often difficult to find placement.”

The report is the third annual summary reviewing Youth Services’ efforts to make prisons safer following a 2004 lawsuit that alleged a culture of violence.

Much has changed since that lawsuit, as the state has closed several detention facilities and the population has sunk to about 600 inmates, almost all boys. But violence continues in the system.

Most juvenile offenders in Ohio are now held in county-run facilities around the state in an attempt to keep them closer to family and away from a prison-like atmosphere that could increase the chances of them committing more crimes.

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