Mental Illness and Incarcerated Youths

Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

A boy can be understandably depressed, upset or angry when he is incarcerated. Perhaps he is remorseful for his actions, feeling guilty and shamed because he is locked up. Other times he might just be angry that he’s been caught. However, there are other boys struggling with very real mental health disorders that drive and exacerbate bad behavior inside.

Estimates reveal that approximately 50 to 75 percent of the 2 million youth encountering the juvenile justice system meet criteria for a mental health disorder. On the streets, the boys self-medicate with drugs while the symptoms of their illness often lead to their arrest. I encounter these boys in the system every day and my heart is broken over the way they are treated.

At unCUFFED, we acknowledge that correctional staff have an extremely difficult job. Safety comes first for officers, inmates and volunteers so when a boy threatens to hurt himself action must be taken. The question is: can we find better solutions to maintain safety, address mental illness, and redeem a boy rather than driving them farther into a pit?

Recently, I visited a young man who was being held in (as the boys crudely refer to it) the “butt-naked room.” In order to attract attention to his perceived needs he threatened to hurt himself. This necessitated a response so he is now being held 24 hours a day in a 6 X 10 cell with a glass observation wall, no clothing, no sheet, no cover and no bedding, The cell contains only a metal bed and a small metal toilet. He refuses to speak with the mental health staff so they cannot put him back in general population. The longer he stays there the more angry and depressed he becomes. It is a downward spiral. I know the staff cares about his well-being but there seems to be no reasonable answer to deal with his affliction.

The answer, of course, is Jesus. Please pray fervently for this young man and all those incarcerated and struggling with mental health illness. Pray for unCUFFED to be able to continue to speak Truth to these young men so they will know the promise He has made to them. Pray that his mind will be opened so he can understand the Scriptures.

Have a look at this video by Rick Warren on the Church and Mental Illness. I know Jesus overcame mental health issues while on this Earth and I believe He continues His work of healing and comfort today. Please pray that unCUFFED can be used in that work.