As described recent New York Times article Mentally Ill Offenders Strain Juvenile System, budget cuts in state mental health programs are causing the juvenile detention system to swell. Youth are not getting the mental help they need in their communities and schools, winding up in prison. For many, problems are only exacerbated by juvenile prison. Neglect and violence runs rampant while the presence of therapists and psychiatrists are minimal. How do we intercept the youth of our communities, derailing them from the prison system and getting them mental help? Many agree that lock up is not the answer, but economic alternative solutions are few and far between. What is to become of the youth in our culture if we do not spearhead movements to help them.
These questions have perplexed mental health professionals and policy makers for ages. When many public mental hospitals and asylums closed in the 60’s and 70’s, a similar phenomenon occurred. The legal system was forced to punish mentally ill offenders. I am not proposing a solution, as the issue is very complex. I want to highlight the idea of accessing therapy rather than punishment. Further, not only should therapy be accessible, but the therapy itself should be non-punitive. Youth seem to be much more receptive to therapeutics that empower them. While specialized wilderness therapy programs are not available to everyone, unique models that empower youth are a good approach.
While juvenile prison attendance continues to rise, and punishment predominates mental health treatment, may we talk to our community planners and school principals about solutions. Innovative approaches to healing the youth are possible, as shown by a small farm in Hawaii. Perhaps projects such as community gardens (see recent post) could be part of the solution.