White Paper: Need to Reform Mental Health Treatment for Incarcerated Youth

CHICAGO — National mental health organizations and experts are calling for reforming mental health services for incarcerated youth after recent reports revealed startlingly high numbers of mental health disorder in the population. Up to 70 percent of youths who come in contact with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to a Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change white paper published Thursday. On average, up to 600,000 youths are in detention centers and 70,000 youths are in correctional facilities every day. Many of those youths are in detention for committing minor, non-violent offenses, according to the white paper. But once inside detention and facilities, youth do not receive proper treatment for mental health disorders.

Roster of Exonerations Shows the Particular Vulnerability of Juveniles Under Questioning

Carl Williams was 17 years old when Cook County police arrested him in January of 1994. Williams was charged with two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault. He confessed to the crime after a police interrogation and along with four co-defendants, Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1996. Now, 18 years later, Williams, who claims he is innocent, has been granted an evidentiary hearing and a re-sentencing by the 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois. “The case of the wrong Carl” is a prime example of change in the way Illinois judges view confessions, said Steven Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions – and co-founder of the Center on Wrong Convictions of Youth – at the Northwestern University School of Law. The Cook County justice system interrogates its juveniles as they do its adults.  And the center is quite certain that of the 100-plus juveniles currently serving life without parole sentences in the state, many of their convictions were based on false confessions.

Sex Workers, Including the Young, Protest Taking of Condoms

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Given that the government, in some cases, gives out condoms to prevent disease and infection, a recent Human Rights Watch report might strike some as a surprise. The report,  released last month, said that on the streets of major American cities, word has spread that police are seizing condoms from sex workers and using the condoms as evidence for prostitution charges. The report says police in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City have been violating the health rights of sex workers by searching and arresting sex workers for carrying condoms.

Anti-prostitution loitering laws make this practice legal in some large cities, including Chicago. And attorneys and advocates are questioning why the government handed out condoms to prevent HIV infection and then seized them, exposing marginalized individuals to even higher risks for infection. Consider this from Andrea Ritchie, a police misconduct attorney and organizer in New York City, who said she was asked by a 22-year-old transgender women: “‘I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t … Why do they take our condoms? Do they want us to die?’”

Though some sex workers told researchers they continued to carry condoms with them, many sex workers have reported that they carry as few as one or two condoms for fear of harassment by police. Carol F., identified as a Los Angeles sex worker and interviewee in the report, said, “There were times when I didn’t have a condom when I needed one, and I used a plastic bag.”

The report emphasizes that vague anti-loitering laws allow for police to racially profile individuals who “look” like sex workers.