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What Is Justice? Incarceration of Mentally Ill Youth in the United States

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3 responses to “What Is Justice? Incarceration of Mentally Ill Youth in the United States”

  1. KJ

    Well researched piece. One thing that would alleviate many of the problems would be real mental health parity (universal health care would be better, but I don’t see that happening soon). To get coverage for child with a mental illness, parents have to fight the system tooth and nail. My dad fought to get all the coverage he could for me and did well. But then, he is an educated professional with knowledge of how the system works. He could negotiate it much better than people without his level of privilege and education. My parents also had the means to pay up front for many of the treatments, then fight the insurance company for reimbursement, an option not available to all. Currently, mental health parity laws are weak and insurance companies can dodge them with ease. Keeping kids with mental illness out of prison is vital and forcing insurance companies to treat mental illness exactly as they would physical illness is crucial.*

    *Not that their treatment of physical illness is always great, but it is, in my experience, easier to obtain coverage for an ovarian cyst or broken leg than for depression or an eating disorder.

  2. Astrid

    Thanks for this piece, s.e. Unfortunately, the situation used to be similar in the Netherlands, where at least 1,500 children and youths were imprisoned without ever having committed a crime, and many more who have committed crimes, are lacking mental health services to treat their illnesses. A bill was passed last year to prohibit the incarceration of youth who didn’t commit crimes, and it is said the problem is solved now.

  3. Ali

    This is a situation with which I have first hand experience. I worked in a public mental health hospital for kids and teens; it was the only public placement in the state except for juvenile detention. Many of my kids were back and forth between the two, and evidently in juvie because of their mental health issues. The whole business of putting kids in prison is just appalling; only a handful ever committed crimes worthy of prison (to my view; these were murder and rape and a few serious assault/attempted murder cases). Most were there for the crime of being psychotic while black and poor. Their parents couldn’t get them treatment, and once they were convicted the state paid for treatment, so they came to us (the only facility that would accept them) and stayed for months.


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