Thursday, August 5, 2010
Help sought for troubled teen
One of the country's top advocates for girls in jail was contacted about a troubled teen at the Manitoba Youth Centre before the 15-year-old girl took her life last week.
Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said she was contacted by someone concerned for the girl's safety who said she needed counselling. Calls and emails increased after the girl hanged herself last week, went into a coma and died three days later in hospital.
Pate said she has had contact with about five people who knew the girl, including those who work at the youth centre. She has information from "within the system" about concerns the girl was suicidal a year ago.
Pate said she believes there's a "real fear of people speaking out" about the incident, which she said points to "probably a much bigger series of systemic issues here around transparency (and) accountability."
She is an expert on women in prison and is helping examine the circumstances behind the death of Ashley Smith, 19, who died in 2007 after guards watched her choke herself in a Kitchener prison.
The Winnipeg girl hanged herself while she was alone in her room in one of the youth centre's cottages.
"We think this, as in the case of Ashley Smith, really highlights the need to look at not (normalizing) prison as an option for youth, particularly those who are most vulnerable and marginalized," Pate said. "We need to be ensuring that there are adequate social services, health care and supportive environments for youth. Jails are not places to raise children."
Separate sources have told the Free Press about the need for more mental-health programming and services for residents at the Doncaster Street jail. They say the jail needs better facilities for observing high-needs youth and that some teens should be getting hospital treatment, not jail time. A source told the Free Press two more girls have attempted suicide at the youth centre since the girl's death.
Staff are doing more checks of youths at the institution, said the source, but there are limits to what they can do. They describe the youth centre as overcrowded and outdated.
"We're not addressing where they come from or what they've gone through, we're just trying to teach them maybe to get along better while they're there," said one source.
The Manitoba Youth Centre has mental health nurses who work in the jail but they don't staff the facility 24 hours a day. "They have trouble keeping people in the position because it's obviously very stressful," said the source.
On Wednesday, there were 189 youths in a facility ideally meant for 150 people.
The province's medical examiner said he'll call an inquest into the death shortly.
"The child should have been looked after more carefully," said Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra.
The suicide was the first at MYC in 35 years.
Manitoba Justice officials have refused Free Press interview requests to discuss mental-health services at the institution.
Cora Morgan, executive director of Onashowewin, works with aboriginal youths and adults who have been arrested and charged, then diverted to programming at the non-profit organization. In the last six months, three teenage girls who went to Onashowewin programs attempted suicide. One died.
"Many of our clients have come from extremely tough circumstances and are not emotionally equipped to cope with their realities," said Morgan.
These teen girl should have never been in prison. Those with mental illnesses should never be in prison, but instead in mental health facilities where they can receive proper treatment and counseling and programs.