Thousands of Mentally Ill NJ Teens Jailed Illegally

Hundreds of children and teenagers held in juvenile detention facilities in New Jersey are there illegally, kept for months without basic medical care in locked quarters that are severely overcrowded and leave them vulnerable to episodes of violence, according to a report by the independent monitor of the state's child welfare system.

The report, issued by the Office of the Child Advocate, which was created last year after the state's child welfare system scandal, is based on a yearlong investigation that had access to confidential government records. It amounts to a damning portrait of the 17 county detention facilities that together house more than 10,000 adolescents a year. The report found that fully a quarter of the youths held in detention facilities, many of them suffering from mental health problems, were there simply because the state could not find a more appropriate setting, such as a hospital or foster home. And in what the report called a "cruel irony,'' scores of them stayed four months longer on average than the sentences served by the adolescents who had been sent there for committing crimes.
The counties, according to the report, often failed to provide the most troubled youths in the facilities with rudimentary mental health care. Evaluations often were not done in some county juvenile jails; in others, mental health care was provided by drug and alcohol counselors, not doctors.


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