By Zach Schalk
July 26, 2010 11:21 A.M EDT
The Boston Globe recently reported that an increased rate of suicides this year in Massachusetts state prisons is leading to a rush to fix its adult prison system:
With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.
The same problem is brewing in some of our nation’s juvenile detention centers.
A recent Chicago Tribune article, in which the reporters take great care to trace the steps that led to Jamal Miller’s suicide, outlines similar issues facing Illinois’s youth detention centers.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the story is not that Jamal killed himself. It’s that his death and the problems that caused it remained beyond the public’s eye until the Tribune reporters took the time to put all the pieces together. The evidence of Miller’s suicidal tendencies was lost in the bureaucratic sea of numbers that is our juvenile corrections system today:
Miller's death was the seventh suicide in the state's juvenile correctional facilities in the past decade. Those deaths, as well as 175 serious suicide attempts during the same period, reflect a breakdown in the system that is supposed to rehabilitate and protect some of the state's most troubled and vulnerable young people, a Tribune investigation found.
Department officials estimate that about two-thirds of the 1,200 inmates in the state's eight juvenile justice facilities have been diagnosed with a mental illness and that half the young men and nearly all the young women have thought about or attempted suicide before they enter the system.
If the problems facing our juvenile corrections system are going to be solved, we must look beyond the daunting pile of statistics. Jamal Miller's death is a tradgedy, but as long as we continue to fight for kids like him it will not have been in vain.