Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Facing the problem of mass incarceration part 3

The impact of incarceration on mentally ill youth and any youth is huge, it can cause a number of problems. Let's take a look at the aftermath of incarceration of our youth.

The adaptation to imprisonment is almost always difficult and, at times, creates habits of thinking and acting that can be dysfunctional in periods of post-prison adjustment. Yet, the psychological effects of incarceration vary from individual to individual and are often reversible. To be sure, then, not everyone who is incarcerated is disabled or psychologically harmed by it. But few people are completely unchanged or unscathed by the experience. At the very least, prison is painful, and incarcerated persons often suffer long-term consequences from having been subjected to pain, deprivation, and extremely atypical patterns and norms of living and interacting with others.

The empirical consensus on the most negative effects of incarceration is that most people who have done time in the best-run prisons return to the free-world with little or no permanent, clinically-diagnosable psychological disorders as a result. Prisons do not, in general, make people "crazy." However, even researchers who are openly skeptical about whether the pains of imprisonment generally translate into psychological harm concede that, for at least some people, prison can produce negative, long-lasting change. And most people agree that the more extreme, harsh, dangerous, or otherwise psychologically-taxing the nature of the confinement, the greater the number of people who will suffer and the deeper the damage that they will incur.

Instead of reducing crime, the act of incarcerating high numbers of youth may in fact facilitate increased crime by aggravating the recidivism of youth who are detained.
A recent evaluation of secure detention in Wisconsin, conducted by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee reported that, in the four counties studied, 70 percent of youth held in secure detention were arrested or returned to secure detention within one year of release.The researchers found that “placement in secure detention may deter a small proportion of juveniles from future criminal activity, although they do not deter most juveniles.”

Behavioral scientists are finding that bringing youth together for treatment or services may make it more likely that they will become engaged in delinquent behavior. Nowhere are deviant youth brought together in greater numbers and density than in detention centers, training schools, and other confined congregate “care” institutions.
Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center found that congregating youth together for treatment in a group setting causes them to have a higher recidivism rate and poorer outcomes than youth who are not grouped together for treatment. The researchers call this process “peer deviancy training,” and reported statistically significant higher levels of substance abuse, school difficulties, delinquency, violence, and adjustment difficulties in adulthood for those youth treated in a peer group setting. The researchers found that “unintended consequences of grouping children at-risk for externalizing disorders may include negative changes in attitudes toward antisocial behavior, affiliation with antisocial peers, and identification with deviancy.”

Many young people in fact engage in “delinquent” behavior, but despite high incarceration rates, not all youth are detained for delinquency. Dr. Delbert Elliott, former President of the American Society of Criminology and head of the Center for the Study of the Prevention of Violence has shown that as many as a third of young people will engage in delinquent behavior before they grow up but will naturally “age out” of the delinquent behavior of their younger years. While this rate of delinquency among young males may seem high, the rate at which they end their criminal behavior, (called the “desistance rate”) is equally high. Most youth will desist from delinquency on their own. For those who have more trouble, Elliott has shown that establishing a relationship with a significant other (a partner or mentor) as well as employment correlates with youthful offenders of all races “aging out” of delinquent behavior as they reach young adulthood.

Of all the various health needs that detention administrators identify among the youth they see, unmet mental and behavioral health needs rise to the top. While researchers estimate that upwards of two-thirds of young people in detention centers could meet the criteria for having a mental disorder, a little more than a third need ongoing clinical care—a figure twice the rate of the general adolescent population.
Why is the prevalence of mental illness among detained youth so high? First, detention has become a new “dumping ground” for young people with mental health issues. One Harvard academic theorizes that the trauma associated with the rising violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s in some urban centers had a deep and sustained impact on young people. At the same time, new laws were enacted that reduced judicial discretion to decide if youth would be detained, decreasing the system’s ability to screen out and divert youth with disorders. All the while, public community youth mental health systems deteriorated during this decade, leaving detention as the “dumping ground” for mentally ill youth.

Another reason for the rise in the prevalence of mental illness in detention is that the kind of environment generated in the nation’s detention centers, and the conditions of that confinement, conspire to create an unhealthy environment. Researchers have found that at least a third of detention centers are overcrowded, breeding an environment of violence and chaos for young people. Far from receiving effective treatment, young people with behavioral health problems simply get worse in detention, not better. Research published in Psychiatry Resources showed that for one-third of incarcerated youth diagnosed with depression, the onset of the depression occurred after they began their incarceration.“The transition into incarceration itself,” wrote one researcher in the medical journal, Pediatrics, “may be responsible for some of the observed [increased mental illness in detention] effect.”

An analysis published in the Journal of Juvenile Justice and Detention Services suggests that poor mental health and the conditions of detention conspire together to generate higher rates of depression and suicide idealization: 24 percent of detained Oregon youth were found to have had suicidal ideations over a seven-day period, with 34 percent of the youth suffering from “a current significant clinical level of depression.”
An indicator of the shift was spelled out by a 2004 Special Investigations Division Report of the U.S. House of Representatives, which found that two-thirds of juvenile detention facilities were holding youth who were waiting for community mental health treatment, and that on any given night, 7 percent of all the youth held in detention were waiting for community mental health services.


Justice Policy Institute

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