More suicide watches in Hamilton County Youth Center

Watches up 25 percent in juvenile detention
Posted at 6:40 PM, Dec 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-21 09:22:05-05

CINCINNATI -- Suicide watches in the Hamilton County Youth Center have increased 25 percent this year.

The detention center houses about 100 boys and girls at a time.

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"I don't think I've been a bad kid," one teenage boy said recently in juvenile court. "I think I just made a mistake."

He was asking Magistrate Mary Schultcz to give him a break after he violated his house arrest.

"I've been good," the teen said.

He received treatment for a mental illness that seems to be part of the reason why he finds it difficult to follow rules and treat himself and others with respect.

"There are youth that have very severe mental health issues that need treatment," Schultcz said.

Studies reveal children held in detention are much more likely to have a mental illness than the general population. Many of them also lack the resources and family support to get the treatment they need.

"I had, yesterday, two cases where a parent came in and said 'I don't want him anymore,' and I corrected them and I said, 'No, you want your child. You don't want their behavior,'" Schultcz said.

During a recent visit to the Hamilton County Youth Center, reporters saw a corrections officer shadowing a 13-year-old boy who threatened to kill himself.

Brian Bell, the director of detention, said the center staff assesses the risk of each offender during intake and during follow-up. He said every threat is taken seriously.

"In detention, there's a high probability of kids trying to hurt themselves for an inability to adopt to the organization here, or the detention center itself," Bell said. "It's a difficult situation they're in. Their futures are in the hands of someone else."

During the last two years, the youth center has used one-on-one suicide watch supervision 178 ties, which includes a 25 percent increase this year. Court officials said that increase may be related to the overall increase in the youth center population.

Despite massive cuts in government funding during the last decade, court officials insist quality treatment for mental health is a top priority for many children who find themselves more vulnerable than ever before.

The suicide watch can result from incidents ranging from a verbal threat to an attempted suicide. The Hamilton County Juvenile Court administrator said the last suicide in youth detention occurred more than 20 years ago.