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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Teen girl attempts suicide at Manitoba Youth Centre

A 15-year-old girl from a northern Manitoba reserve is clinging to life in a Winnipeg hospital after she tried to kill herself in the Manitoba Youth Centre Tuesday morning.
A source told the Free Press the tiny girl struggled with depression and previous suicide attempts. She was under the care of Child and Family Services before this latest attempt to take her own life by hanging.
Justice officials said MYC staff is devastated by the suicide attempt. The last suicide death at MYC occurred in December 1975.
"It's been a challenging time for all of our staff and our residents, and I guess our need right now is to attend to their needs," said Louis Goulet, Manitoba Justice's executive director for youth correctional services. "Hopefully... this young girl will come through, and our thoughts and prayers are with her."
The Free Press cannot name the girl, in part because she is facing charges under the Youth Criminal Justice Act that resulted in her being at the MYC.
The girl was taken to Children's Hospital Tuesday and is in the pediatric intensive-care unit, where family members have rushed from northern Manitoba to be by her side.
A source who knew the girl well broke down Wednesday after describing the girl's deeply pained life, and said she had repeatedly tried to commit suicide in the MYC before this week's attempt.
"It's been an injustice," said the source, who added the girl had family turmoil and run-ins with the law.
Among the girl's many problems was the death of a sibling last year after falling through a thin patch of ice in the northern community where her family lives. Another source said she was a "tiny" girl who had noticeable marks on her arms.
Goulet said corrections officials will review how the girl managed to harm herself while she was in custody at the Doncaster Street jail.
Officials said the MYC went into lockdown after the girl was discovered at about 11:30 a.m., until early evening Tuesday.
Goulet said the girl was alone in her own room in one of the 15-room cottages when staff found her. He said there are "always staff present" in the cottage, with the up to 15 teens who stay there.
The MYC has four dedicated observation rooms where staff can watch youths in trouble on surveillance cameras, but the girl was not in one of those rooms when she hanged herself.
All young people who enter the MYC are evaluated for their suicide risks, said Goulet, and moved into an observation room on a case-by-case basis.
"One of the things we need to remember (is) we're dealing with young people at risk," Goulet said. "They come to us, and one of the things we're... always concerned about is the potential risk for all the youths that come into our facility."
The MYC housed 172 youth Tuesday. According to Free Press archives, the facility had about 210 unionized workers in 2009.
Prisoners and staff at the youth centre are receiving crisis counselling in relation to the suicide attempt, and Goulet said officials are aware it could have a copycat effect on other girls.
Goulet did not know Wednesday afternoon how many other youth were in the cottage when the girl hanged herself, or the number of staff there at the time.
He said the review will look at what the girl used to harm herself and how long she may have been there before she was found.
MYC staff can remove items from youths they feel could present a danger to suicidal teens.
Family members left their remote community for Winnipeg on Tuesday and were at the hospital Wednesday afternoon, the girl's uncle said.
"I felt shock and I'm worried about her right now. I hope she's OK," he said.
He said she was supposed to return to the north when she was allowed to leave the MYC.

Mentally ill teens should not be imprisoned to begin with. They need treatment and counseling and psychological help, not prison. Prisons often worsen mental illnesses, which is likely what happened in this case. This girl already struggled with depression and previous suicide attempts. The girl had previously attempted suicide while in the MYC but was never moved to one of the observation rooms. That is wrong. If there was staff present, this attempt should not have happened.    

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