Where do the Wild Ones go?
February 15, 2007 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Where do uncontrollable children ultimately end up in the US?

What happens to children who simply cannot be controlled by 'the system'?

I'm talking the kind of kids who, if they were adults, would be regarded as dangerous sociopaths and locked up in high security federal prisons. I don't mean kids who suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses or disabilities, I mean kids who are violent, disruptive and simply don't respond to traditional forms of discipline/bribery/whatever. Assume that they continually try to escape from any kind of detention, and on the streets would come into contact with the police fairly quickly.

Obviously they are going to end up in Juvenile Detention at some point, but what happens if they can't be controlled there. Is there some ultimate 'big house' or lockdown facility? Is there something at the Federal level?

Think someone like Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron crossed with Randle McMurphy crosses with Cool Hand Luke. Say 12 years old. Where would they end up?

(yes, it's for a story)
posted by unSane to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Depends entirely on locale, but most juvenile detention facilities have the ability to deal with extreme cases in isolation and high security units.
Depending upon the age of the child, the severity of the crime, and the locale, they may be sent to big people's jail.
posted by Seamus at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2007

Well, the first thing that came to mind for me is a local child facility called Orchard Place. When I was in elementary school, I remember a few kids with behavior disorders who just weren't controllable in a classroom situation who ended up there. A coworker's wife who works with the same sort of kids has indicated that it's kind of the final option for kids with those issues. They have a lockdown-type of system for some of the kids, while I believe others only go there for the day.

I'd imagine most communities have similar places. I have talked to people who work there and they really care about the kids, but it's an incredibly trying job. Try teaching a kid who would throw a desk at you in a normal classroom, and who's trying to run off constantly.
posted by mikeh at 8:35 AM on February 15, 2007

I recently worked in my state's high(est) security correctional facility for juveniles. The kids there were aged fourteen (rarely younger) to seventeen when they offended and committed serious felonies -- rape, attempted murder, armed robbery, etc. -- but were not charged as adults. The facility had the capacities of any decent prison: counseling for drugs users and sex offenders and the mentally ill, a school, a "work" program, a very controlled and secure environment, and so on. However, while worst of the worst juveniles with extreme behavior problems were sent to isolation, as you'd expect, by law they still had to be educated. So, for an hour or two a day they are allowed one-on-one time with a guard and a teacher (who just pretty much silently watches them do worksheets). Also, the kids are allowed homework in their cells. Otherwise, it's typical solitary confinement.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:00 AM on February 15, 2007

In Michigan, problem kids may be sent to the juvenile division of the probate court. This is at the county level. They tend to options such as foster homes, sometimes residential group settings.

If a kid doesn't get sorted that way, he may end up being sent on to state-level supervision. In the 60's, this was simply termed "being commited to the state". This generally meant Boys Trainning School (BTS). It was prison for juveniles. Of course different kids have different problems, so there were various options for the state to consider on a case-by-case basis.

I got involved with the system at the county level, as a kid, for about a year. Following that, I stayed in contact with various people there, out of friendship. (my crime was being 'incorrigble', a catch-all phrase. A crime that no adult can commit, like running-away from home).

If you want to hear more about it, feel free write, email in profile. My information is, however, dated.
posted by Goofyy at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2007

I don't mean kids who suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses or disabilities, I mean kids who are violent, disruptive and simply don't respond to traditional forms of discipline/bribery/whatever.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. Researching ODD might give you some ideas for your story. I used to be part of an on-line support group for parents of children with ODD, and some of the stories they told...
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:23 AM on February 15, 2007

I'm in California. Assuming that the bio parents could not deal with the child, he would then be in the dependency system. Assuming that a regular foster home couldn't deal, he'd be moved to a group home. (There are "levels" -- a group home is at a higher level than a foster home, and different group homes are different levels.) And then to another group home, at a higher level. For particular episodes the kid might be 5150'd -- locked in a psychiatric hospital for 72 hours (or longer if deemed necessary). Then perhaps to a specialized locked facility for "residential treatment." Some of these facilities are in rural areas, where it can be difficult to run away. Once the child began commiting crimes (under your scenario), the juvenile justice system would start taking over, and the child would be sent to the local juvenile hall, which is essentially prison for kids. When I was there recently, there were some kids there that were pretty young, 10 years old. I'm not sure under what circumstances an adult prison would ever take over the custody of a child but that might be a possibility.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:30 AM on February 15, 2007

I have a friend who worked at the Christie School in Oregon, which is a residential private school for troubled kids. I believe (though I'm going from memory) that they range in age from about 7-8 years old to 18.

Some of the kids have only mild problems, including behavioral problems associated with abuse, manageable mental illness, drug addiction and criminal histories. Some are severely mentally troubled and have no chance of recovery. Although it's a private school and some parents do pay to send their kids there, a lot of the kids' tuitions are government funded, because the government has an obligation to provide education to all kids and doesn't have the resources to do so for the most needy kids.

There are different residential assignments for different kids, depending on how much supervision they need. Some are never ever left alone, others have relatively unfettered access to the Christie School campus. Some are not allowed to be around other kids without close supervision because of the likelihood that they will commit violence or sexual assault. Some are not allowed to go to the bathroom alone.

It sounded like a really awful place to work, to me. My friend had to go through extensive training in safe ways to respond to attack and safe ways to restrain children. She came home with ripped clothing, bruises, and bite wounds more than once. She worked A LOT of overtime, because it's tough to find enough people who are willing to take this kind of job. She worked swing shifts, late nights, early mornings, afternoons, every hour of the day and night, because these kids require constant supervision.

My friend loved it. After four years there, she went back to school to get a master's degree in social work so she was qualified to do more than watch kids pee and to restrain them when they went ballistic. She's not working at the Christie School any more, but she is working with other state programs aimed at helping drug addicted and seriously troubled kids.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2007

The word you're looking for is "recidivism." Since there are laws against not "playing nice in the sandbox," these people invariably become the responsibility of the corrections system. If they enter the system as children and they are not rehabilitated they will either commit crimes on the inside and "earn" longer sentences thereby, or commit crimes on the outside and be taken back to prison. If any of this happens over the minor/adult border, the person in question can certainly be sentenced to adult prison and moved over to continue their lives.

None of this is intended to address mental illness or judicial disparities of any kind.
posted by rhizome at 10:15 AM on February 15, 2007

A few of my friends sent to "The Hill." I have no idea what the real name of the place was, but it was a behavior disorder school for kids who, for example, cracked open the skull of a teacher by throwing a chair with desk attached at the teacher's head.

There's also juvenile detention which is a lot like prison, with just as much hazing and same sex rape, but also with classes taught from behind thick plexiglass, forced group councelling and solitary if you're bad.

Courts do their best to keep kids out of those, just because it's like criminal training ground.

There's group home situations for "troubled" kids -- which means a lot of the same stuff on a smaller, less industrial scale. Also, a lot more group therapy.

Sometimes, kids go into psych lockdown if it's anything violent. Medded up and wandering around with plastic mirrors and very Nurse Ratchett style.

Ahh, the things you learn when you have a thing for bad boys as a high school freshman.
posted by Gucky at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2007

well i never had to spend any extended time in a lockdown facility ... but i spent a week or so in a few. fortunately, my folks cared for me and had money ... and they ended up sending me here. definately more of a 'free range' kind of handling. feel free to ask more questions via email in profile.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2007

Most states have a provision for referring juvenile offenders to adult courts for severe crimes. So the worst offenders often get bumped into the adult prison system.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:09 AM on February 15, 2007

Portland, OR.
posted by Gamblor at 11:27 AM on February 15, 2007

Lester's sock puppet -- I love this photo from your link.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:32 AM on February 15, 2007

I have a friend who works in a 'treatment facility' that houses this population. Many states have laws against putting kids in prison but they have to go somewhere (here in Texas they go to some sort of prison I think). So where they send these kids is to facilities where they are warehoused until they hit the end of some predetermined time period or maybe reach 18? Not certain what the end-time is nor how determined.

It's a rough job. He is also a teacher, teaches 'troubled kids' in the school system, but that job is a walk in the park compared to this one, which he's doing to clean up some fairly heavy credit card debt (and also, I suspect, because he's a damn decent person and sees this as doing his part).

He knows all manner of holds wherein he can restrain these kids without hurting them and without endangering himself, but it's still very dangerous (or so it seems to me - I'd love to see him out of there, he's a good guy) and it is very heavy emotionally, as these kids rant and rail and fight and scream, on and on, it's a zoo, and no real way to reach these people. It's primitive, the jungle - he tells me that if he were built like a monster or was a monster they'd recognize it and fear him; there is a guy who is a co-worker who is built like Arnold and they shut up around him, or at least act out less.

I want to toss them out the window just hearing about them, but fact is that most of them have *been* tossed out of various life windows, which is how they ended up there.

I suspect my friend would answer your questions better than I can and I suspect he'd be willing to help you, esp if he thought it would be in the cause of creating a better understanding of these kids; if you're interested, I'll find out, and send him your email.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2007

There is an organisation in Boston call The Home. Some might know it as The New England Home for Little Wanderers. Despite the sugery sounding language on the site, several of the residential programs were semi-lock down facilities for teenage boys with significant issues.

These programs were normally either the last stop before ending up in correctional facilities or the first stop for those re-joining society.

And no, I wasn't a resident. I worked there in the early 90's.
posted by michswiss at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2007

ha. i think that's from a field trip.

there was a lot of peer counseling going on there, as well. most kids, when they showed up, quickly learned to adapt rather then run away.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:42 PM on February 15, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses. I haven't marked any of these as best answers only because they are ALL in one sense or another best answers. Incredibly helpful.

I may well take one or two of you up on your offers of email.

Can I ask an follow up? Is there any one individual who has -- or in some circumstances might have -- a continuing contact with a kid who is slowly descending through the layers of the system? A person who has decisive power over the route they take? Who, if they set their face against you, could ensure you ended up in Hell, wherever Hell is?

Incidentally, in the research for this I came across an excellent translation of Itard's famous account of his dealings with Victor of Aveyron, here. Once you skim the introduction, his account of Victor is really compelling.
posted by unSane at 5:13 PM on February 15, 2007

The Christie School deals mostly with kids that have diagnosable disorders, so I don't think that's what you're looking for.

If they're supported in time by someone (before being caught in connection with crime), they go somewhere much further away from any type of civilization, either a 'boot camp' atmosphere or "wilderness therapy".
On a different note, the Esperanza Fire in California caused one such place to be evacuated, the Twin Pines Boys Ranch. Based on this green sheet report [pdf], I don't think the ranch burned.
posted by lilithim at 5:25 PM on February 15, 2007

Re follow up: There are a number of people who have influence over where a "troubled kid" ends up. Social workers (the assigned worker and that worker's boss), the kid's dependency lawyer, the judge (who is often the same person over the years, and presides over periodic hearings -- about every six months -- re where the kid should be placed).

A lot of it is sort of structural -- a kid is deemed to require a certain "level" of care based on behavior, getting kicked out of placements, what the social workers say. Once a high level is assigned, then the kid is limited to a range of pretty harsh placements that take kids at that level.

Under your scenario, probably the head of the county social services -- essentially the person in charge of all of the social workers -- could exert the most influence, in that they could (if they tried) essentially control where the kid was placed by making sure that he was labeled as the worst possible requiring very high level of care. E.g. assigning him to psychological assessments and making sure that certain evidence is provided to the person doing the assessment such that there will be a very grim outcome.

There are particular words/phrases/labels/images that get attached to kids and that pretty much ensure that they'll be sent to a more restrictive setting. These include "firestarter," anything about sex (e.g. "sexually inappropriate," "sexually aggressive," "sexual predator," etc.), anything about knives, "severely emotionally disturbed," personality disorder or other Axis II diagnoses (oppositional personality disorder, whatever, just look in the DSM), "destroys property," steals. Once these kind of terms are associated with a kid and written down in their file -- even if whatever it is isn't true -- it's very difficult for the kid to get the green light to live in less-restrictive setting.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:17 PM on February 18, 2007

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