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YOUNGSTOWN Mentally ill teen finds no place to go but jail



Published: Sun, June 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



She was ordered into a treatment facility but, so far, none will take her.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Jackie Colon doesn't belong in a juvenile jail. A psychiatrist and a judge have said so.

But that's where she's been since December, and there is no sign of her leaving any time soon.

That's frustrating the 14-year-old girl's mother, who can't understand why Jackie hasn't been moved to a residential facility for psychiatric care.

"She's just down there existing," Michelle Colon said. "It's killing me inside."

Jackie is accused of throwing a 3-month-old baby out a second-floor window in December, then going outside and stabbing the infant nearly 60 times.

In March, she was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and was ordered into a residential treatment facility. After a year, she was to be re-evaluated for competency to stand trial.

Her lawyer, Joseph Rafidi, said he doubts she will ever be restored to competency. But despite the court ruling, local mental health officials can't find a place to send her for treatment.

"She's just sitting up there in that jail and she's not getting any help at all," Rafidi said.

No state-run facilities: The problem, as several area health officials see it, is that there are no state-operated mental health facilities in Ohio.

"Those programs are long gone," said Dr. Harvey Kayne, clinical director of D & amp;E Counseling Center in Youngstown.

Without a state facility to which she could be admitted with a court order, officials must find a private program that will accept Jackie, and that's been difficult.

She's considered too high-functioning for some programs and too low-functioning for others.

She has a dual diagnosis -- she is both mentally retarded and mentally ill. That, in addition to her propensity for violent behavior, has made private facilities reticent to accept her, but Kayne said officials have not stopped trying to find one that will.

"I guarantee you, there are folks looking hard and far," he said.

The county board of mental retardation and developmental disabilities won't accept Jackie because she does not meet criteria for admission into its programs, said Superintendent Larry Duck. Under the law, he can't accept her into the program, Duck said.

Decisions are based on a candidate's mobility, receptive and expressive language, self-care, self-direction, capacity for individual living and learning, Duck said.

"We tested her twice and she failed to meet the criteria both times. I think we did everything we could to make ourselves accessible to her," he said.

County's domain? Since she doesn't meet mental retardation program guidelines, she should fall into the county mental health board's care net, Duck said. That didn't sit well with Ronald Marian, executive director of the mental health board.

"It's always rankled me that a lot of boards hide behind the Ohio Revised Code and some kind of system that they devised," Marian said.

The way the law is written creates loopholes for programs to reject people who need help but don't fit a particular program's exact specifications, Marian said.

"This is an opportunity for us to start networking and stop this exclusionary stuff."

Others: Jackie is not the only dual-diagnosis child in this situation, said Eva Burris, juvenile court administrator. Hers just happens to be a high-profile case, but there are others like her looking for a place to fit into the mental health system.

Without state facilities, their only option to get help is going to jail, where care is provided at county expense.

"We do not have the programming here to cope with someone like her," Burris said. The juvenile center staff does the best it can to provide care for Jackie, but lacks the training to provide long-term counseling she needs.

Adults: The problem isn't limited to juveniles. Some adults, too, find themselves wedged into cracks in the system.

Jeffrey Nelson of Phelps Street was placed on probation Friday for sending a threatening e-mail to the governor of Louisiana. His attorney, Paul Conn, rattled off a laundry list of Nelson's mental problems.

The sentencing options were limited to prison, the county jail or probation. Judge James C. Evans opted for probation and ordered Nelson to undergo counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.

"It's a classic case of our hands being tied," said Jay Macejko, assistant county prosecutor. "Since Woodside closed there is no place to send these people."

Jail official: Robert Knight, medical director at the Mahoning County jail, said he's had numerous people like Nelson in jail since the state closed Woodside Receiving Hospital several years ago.

"I probably have 60 people in the jail on psychiatric medication, and most of them would benefit from being in a treatment facility," Knight said.

The state's philosophy toward mentally ill patients changed several years ago, and its funding programs changed with it, Knight said.

Instead of putting money into residential facilities like Woodside, the focus switched to outpatient facilities and put the onus on communities to provide care.

Duck said Ohio is a large enough state to warrant at least one state-run facility where people like Jackie and Nelson could get help. Without one, they'll languish in jail or on the streets.

"I don't understand all this," Jackie's mother said. "When they thought she was a murderer, everybody came from everywhere to help. Now that she needs help, no one will touch her."

bjackson@vindy.com




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