Mississippi teen with several mental disorders prisoned for nearly 4 years without psychiatric evaluation
January 9, 2018 0 Comments
A 16-year-old Mississippi teenager allegedly stabbed his father’s girlfriend with a 10-inch butcher’s knife in November 2012 and then called 911 to report the incident. However, Tyler Douglas Haire quietly sat down on a tree stump outside his home, waiting for the police to arrive. Once the responders reached his house, Haire could not recall anything and claimed that the officers were arresting the wrong person. He was taken to the county jail where the sheriff, who perceived him as awkward and overweight, placed him in solitary confinement for his protection.
Five months later, by when Haire had turned 17, a grand jury found him guilty of aggravated assault and referred his case to a judge. The teen’s court-appointed defense lawyer informed the judge that based on his discussions with the teen, the boy was not mentally capable of understanding the charges he was facing. It was recommended that the teen undergo a psychiatric examination, particularly due to his history of childhood mental disorders, past episodes of suspected violence and inflicting injury, his multiple hospitalizations and admission into a troubled boys’ home. Haire’s mother confirmed his childhood mental illnesses, citing at least 10 diagnoses, including major depressive disorder (MDD) with psychotic tendencies, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression with homicidal ideations, impulse control disorder and bipolar disorder.
Based on this information, the judge ordered that Haire should undergo a psychiatric assessment “at the earliest possible date.” Although the order was passed on April 23, 2013, a recent investigation found that Haire spent 1,266 days (nearly four years) in jail without a single psychiatric evaluation. During this period, he was not given any of the multiple medications he had been taking since childhood. Haire received no education, and he was also beaten up by his father’s friends lodged in the same jail.
Juvenile justice system ill-equipped to help children with mental disorders
Every year, nearly 2 million American children and adolescents are arrested. Of these, 65-70 percent have a mental disorder. The juvenile justice (JJ) system is considered largely ill-equipped to assist these youth. In the absence of proper treatment, children and adolescents may continue with their delinquent behavior and ultimately become criminals in adulthood. This endless cycle can only be broken by effectively assessing and providing comprehensive responses to court-monitored juveniles with mental disorders, thereby, reducing their likelihood to commit crimes in future.
Research suggests that the role of the JJ system should be “concentrated and narrow”, and that it should be based on broader community partnerships for addressing mental disorders in youth. Focusing efforts within the JJ system to treat delinquent youth with mental disorders can be harmful to the youth and result in a higher economic burden for the system. Moreover, limited funding for youth mental health services being allocated to the JJ system limits the community’s ability to develop a variety of community-based services.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there is a disproportionate use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities for youth with acute psychiatric symptoms. Such an approach leads to significant suffering for the affected youth and can aggravate the illness. Solitary confinement can have a lasting impact on juveniles’ development and increase their risk of suicide. Arrested youth have a four-time higher risk of suicide than their peers. Within three years of confinement, re-arrest rates are as high as 75 percent.
Early identification of youth mental disorders is critical
It is critical to provide arrested juveniles with an integrated system of care comprising education, child protection, juvenile justice and behavioral health treatment. Early identification of mental health needs among youth can lead to their diversion from the formal JJ system to community care settings where suitable treatment can be provided. Correctional facilities can play a primary role by expediting the mental health evaluations of arrested youth. Moreover, all correctional centers should be equipped to provide emergency services to youth awaiting trial.
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