Almost all of us lament the criminalization of the mentally ill. For several decades, prisons have been a more damaging place for many adults with mental illness than the coercive psychiatric hospitals they replaced.
A recent article in the Milwaukee State Journal shows that the link between mental illness and the criminal justice system can start at a young age. Reporter Rory Linnane quotes Peg Rauschenberger, a registered nurse at Milwaukee County’s youth detention center.
“It’s almost like they have to get into some sort of trouble before they get into [mental health] services,” she said. “They end up being incarcerated for really what is a health issue and it shouldn’t have gotten that far.”
A stay at the youth detention center might begin the journey to the Lincoln Hills School for Boys or Copper Lake School for Girls. About 75 % of male inmates and 85% of female inmates at the complex meet the criteria for at least one mental health disorder, according to Wisconsin state figures.
The facilities are under judicial order because of inhumane and ineffective treatment of the young inmates. More to the point, the American Psychological Association has threatened to remove its accreditation as an intern site because of excessive mental health caseloads, inconsistent intern supervision, ethical lapses by staff, transparency failures and other issues.
Read Linnane’s article Shortage of Mental Health Providers Hits Crisis Point for a good analysis of some underlying reasons why many young people end up at the detention center and ultimately the failed juvenile complex. Largely because of inadequate funding and low reimbursement rates, Wisconsin does a worse job than most states in providing access to all types of mental health professionals.
UPDATE: The APA has placed the mental health program on probation. Click here to read a story with more details about the failures of mental health services at Lincoln Hills.