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Mental Health Care for Children in Corrections

NCJ Number
Children's Legal Rights Journal Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 1998 Pages: 18-35
M Beyer
Date Published
18 pages
This article focuses on the developmental mental health needs of juveniles in corrections, the identification of individual mental health needs, the meeting of these needs, suicide prevention, protection from sexual behavior and substance abuse during incarceration, and continuing care.
Juvenile delinquents, especially those who are detained or incarcerated, often project a facade of toughness, strength, and indifference to their own suffering and that of others. The poems presented in this article, however, show that many of these juveniles carry within themselves intense loneliness, fear, self- blame, distrust, sadness, and hopelessness. For many, their loneliness, despair, and fear of being unprotected are serious enough that they would rather die. They worry about their families and friends, who will miss them, visit them, write to them, forget them, or remember their birthdays. They desperately need affirmations of their value. Unfortunately, the staff and programs of many juvenile facilities do little to address the emotional deprivation of their residents, and they often aggravate it. Recent reports document severe human and civil rights violations in juvenile facilities, including pervasive physical abuse, arbitrary discipline, excessive use of restraints, inadequate portions of food, inadequate physical and environmental conditions, overcrowding, and inadequate staffing. More lawyers, evaluators, child advocates, citizens, and judges must demand to spend time inside juvenile detention centers and correctional facilities. They must listen to what youth are saying and in, so far as possible, imagine what it would be like to be one of them. At the very least, criminal justice professionals, policymakers, and citizens must ensure that youth are protected while they are in custody. Beyond this, programs and staff should help youth to believe and feel that their lives can change for the better through the tools provided them while incarcerated. 2 notes