COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mentally ill youth in Ohio juvenile facilities should be transferred to psychiatric facilities to receive the best possible treatment, a new analysis of the state’s youth services recommends.
The state’s most acutely mentally ill youth should be transferred to psychiatric treatment facilities if hospitalized or in other settings outside of detention, according to the report, which makes several recommendations for improving the system.
The violent behavior of many youth offenders makes it difficult to transfer them into the needed treatment facilities, said Andrea Kruse, DYS spokeswoman.
Most juvenile offenders in Ohio are currently held in county-run facilities. The state provides two mental health units for boys and one for girls, each staffed with full-time psychologists and social workers, according to Kruse.
But the report states that young offenders would be better served at a psychiatric facility designed to meet their specific needs.
After violence in juvenile facilities sparked a lawsuit in 2004, the state closed several detention centers and the population has dropped to about 600 inmates, almost all of them male. Even so, violence still breaks out in the facilities.
Juveniles who end up in state custody are among the toughest offenders in Ohio, with sentences averaging more than a year. In August and September, the state reported 11 large-scale, gang-related fights involving multiple youth offenders in the juvenile system.
In addition, 20 staff members went on leave due to injuries sustained during assaults. And some teens not involved in the fights refused to attend school or therapy sessions because they felt unsafe.
The report recommended the Department of Youth Services expand recreational and job-related activities to keep teens busy throughout the day.
“Youth consistently report that they have too much time with nothing to do, and that gang-related activities fill the void,” the report stated.
The report noted that several juveniles in Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility, in suburban Columbus, found several juveniles had poor attendance and mental health concerns needing attention. “In many cases, mental health team members were not aware of the problems these youth were having in school,” the report said.
The report also found shortages in psychiatric care hours and significant vacancies for psychologists, psychiatric nurses and social workers within the juvenile facilities. Mental health experts found programs weren’t being monitored and care services for youth weren’t being systematically reviewed.
The Department of Youth Services is looking at possible short- and long-term solutions for these issues.
Under a court settlement, the department must “strive to prevent deterioration or exacerbation of mental health symptoms and needless isolation for behaviors caused by mental health issues,” according to the report by court-appointed monitors Will Harrell and Terry Schuster.