Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Suicide attempt at Manitoba Youth Centre, raises alarm bells

A suicide attempt at the Manitoba Youth Centre that's left a 15-year-old girl in critical condition is raising alarm bells about mental health services for kids in custody.
"We're not the place for these kids," said the source, who said staff at the MYC are "really, really shaken up" after the girl's attempted suicide.
The source said the girls at the jail come to staff as "used and abused," and treated as if they're disposable. Boys aren't immune either. "I just think (jail is) really damaging a lot of these kids further," said the source.
"Most of these kids should not be in a jail... it's just the wrong place."
MYC staff knew the girl was grappling with depression and had previously tried to kill herself. Those same staff are the ones forced to scramble to deal with many of the centre's population who suffer from mental health issues. The source said girls at the MYC -- who usually number from about 40 to 45 -- especially need attention in a hospital setting, not a locked institution. The last suicide death at the facility was in December 1975.
Manitoba Justice has launched a review into the circumstances surrounding the girl's suicide attempt. An official confirmed she was by herself in her own room in one of the jail's 15-room cottages when the incident occurred.
After a staff member found the girl at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, she was rushed to hospital and the facility went into lockdown for hours.
The girl had attempted suicide four to six times before she reportedly harmed herself Tuesday, a source told the Free Press.
The girl had been assessed as a medium risk for suicide and wasn't allowed to have sheets in her room for fear she'd harm herself, said another source. She used an article of clothing to hang herself.
The source said the suicide attempt points to larger issues about the need for more intensive counselling for kids who present a risk.
The source said nurses at the facility are stretched too thin by the many high-needs teens, adding there has to be a dedicated mental health facility to properly treat them.
"They're just overwhelmed... they're all stretched to the limit," said the source. "We're not the place for these kids."
The facility should look at having rooms with better visibility, said the source, so staff can supervise youths more effectively.
The source also recommended a higher number of observation rooms -- specialized rooms where staff monitor youth on surveillance.
There are only four observation rooms right now.
No Manitoba Justice officials would speak to the Free Press Thursday about mental health programs for youths in custody.
Corey La Berge, a Legal Aid Manitoba lawyer who represents young offenders, said MYC staff are excellent and pointed out youth at the centre receive treatment from nurses and psychologists. However, he said, the "criminal legal system" is a "dumping ground" for people who've fallen through the cracks of the mental health system.
He said he dealt with a teenage female client this week who was at the Manitoba Youth Centre but should have been at a hospital.
Bonnie Kocsis, the province's acting Children's Advocate, said her office isn't involved in looking at the tragedy at this point but provincial officials will be.
"I'm sure that everybody out there is going to be asking questions," she said.
The girl was in the care of a Child and Family Services agency and had a troubled family history that included the death of her sister last year. A source who knows the girl well described her life as an "injustice," which included struggles with addictions and repeated trauma.
A hospital official said Thursday afternoon the girl remained in critical condition.

Individuals with mental disorders should never be placed in prisons, as the negative environments often worsen mental illnesses or create new ones. People with mental disorders need treatment and counseling, not prisons, especially teens. Prison for teens are the like the schools of crime, where less violent offenders learn new crime skills and how to avoid detection from other, more high risk/experienced offenders. Prisons are negative environments which do not facilitate rehabilitation or reform. They are damaging, especially for teens. Only the most dangerous and high risk offenders should be in custody; nobody else.

This girl had attempted suicide before her latest attempt and the staff knew she was struggling with depression. Those should have been warning signs and she should have been moved to the observation room, not kept in her secure room. She also should have been receiving mental health treatment and counseling, as opposed to being locked in a cell. I agree there should be a separate mental health facility to properly treat teens and other prisoners with mental disorders. This girl has also struggled with addictions, the death of her sister and repeated trauma which need to be addressed through counseling and treatment as well.

People with mental illnesses should never be imprisoned as the negative environments and lack of mental health services/resources often worsen their disorders. Mentally ill offenders need more intensive treatment and counseling, not prison. Prisons do not facilitate rehabilitation and they are damaging, especially for the mentally ill.      

This teen had previously attempted suicide before the latest attempt and the MYC staff were aware of her struggle with depression. She should have been moved to the observation room with better visibility or better yet, to the mental health hospital. She should have been receiving mental health treatment and counseling as opposed to being locked in a cell with limited access to those services.  

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