We have emphasized the importance of accessible mental health assistance for all people in the country because it is very clear to us that many of the problems existing in our cultures can be traced to one form of mental illness or another. Left untreated, an increasing number of these mentally challenged people end up incarcerated in facilities unequipped to deal with mental health issues: The results can be dramatic and extremely troublesome for the individuals and the public. Yet, where is the justice when you use juvenile facilities to house and abuse kids who have not committed a crime?
In a recent article, the Minneapolis Tribune highlighted the profound inadequacies and “ordeals” of a juvenile detention facility in Lino Lakes, Minnesota, where a 17-year-old girl, Katelin Ferrell, was placed against her will; she had not committed a crime, but in Minnesota, the paper reports, “Troubled children who are not charged with a crime — whose only offenses might be running away from home or hitting a classmate — now account for one-fifth of the population in Minnesota’s county juvenile correctional facilities”.
In Katelin’s case, according to the article, she “recalls sobbing uncontrollably while trying to block out the sound of five adults screaming orders just inches from her face. Moments later, she says, staff at the Anoka County juvenile facility threw her to the floor, shackled her wrists and ankles, and left her isolated in her room. Not until the next day, Katelin says, was she finally taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, where she was treated for a broken orbital bone beneath her eye socket, burst blood vessels in both eyes and a concussion. ‘I have no idea what I did to deserve this,’ said Katelin, her eyes still bloodshot and bruised a week after the incident.”
The details reported in the Tribune article are disturbing, to say the least. We find it more troubling to learn that judges are ordering such dispositions. This case illuminates the desperate urgency for lawmakers and the courts to place particular weight on the pressing need to fund and build adequate facilities properly staffed with competent mental health professionals. We are sure that county jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities are not the appropriate venue for housing juveniles (or adults) who are mentally challenged when they have not committed a serious crime.