FRANKLIN FURNACE, Ohio — The teenager in the padded smock sat in his solitary confinement cell here in this state’s most secure juvenile prison and screamed obscenities.
The youth, Donald, a 16-year-old, his eyes glassy from lack of sleep and a daily regimen of mood stabilizers, was serving a minimum of six months for breaking and entering. Although he had received diagnoses for psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, a judge decided that Donald would get better care in the state correctional system than he could get anywhere in his county.
That was two years ago.
Donald’s confinement has been repeatedly extended because of his violent outbursts. This year he assaulted a guard here at the prison, the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility, and was charged anew, with assault. His fists and forearms are striped with scars where he gouged himself with pencils and the bones of a bird he caught and dismembered.
As cash-starved states slash mental health programs in communities and schools, they are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders. About two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates — who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 — have at least one mental illness, according to surveys of youth prisons, and are more in need of therapy than punishment
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Facing some form of consequence/treatment for wrongdoing? Yes. Throwing mentally ill people under the jail as though they had a clear-thinking and depraved intention to harm and injure? F minus.