SLAIN-BABY CASE Where to put Jackie Colon?
Prosecutors say it's unlikely that Jackie Colon will be charged as an adult.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jackie Colon turns 18 this week, and that has Mahoning County officials once again clamoring for changes in the way juveniles with severe mental health issues are treated in the criminal justice system.
Jackie has been in state custody since she was 14. She is accused of throwing a 3-month-old baby out a second-story window at her family's Roxbury Avenue home onto a concrete driveway below, then stabbing the infant more than 60 times.
The baby and his mother were spending the night at the Colon home.
Jackie was charged with murder, but the charge was eventually dismissed because tests showed that she was mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Last year, Judge Theresa Dellick of juvenile court placed Jackie in the care and custody of the county Children Services Board.
Denise Stewart, CSB executive director, said Jackie is housed at a psychiatric facility somewhere in Ohio. For confidentiality reasons, Stewart said, she is not permitted to disclose the location.
"She is doing OK," Stewart said. "That's about all I can say."
Once Jackie turns 18 Tuesday, Stewart said, officials will start looking for an adult facility where she can be housed and treated.
"She will not be just cut loose," Stewart said. "Absolutely we will find another place for her and help her transition into an adult facility."
Door is open
When Judge Dellick dismissed the murder charge against Jackie, she left the door open for the charge to be filed again in common pleas court after Jackie becomes an adult, if she is restored to competency.
Nicholas Modarelli of the county prosecutor's office said that's not likely to happen, given Jackie's mental condition.
"Unless there has been a finding of mental competency, I don't see how we can refile it," Modarelli said. "I'm sure if it ever comes back that she is competent, we would refile. But as far as I know, that hasn't happened."
Judge Dellick said officials have struggled for years to find a suitable place to hold Jackie. Ohio does not have a state-run facility for children like her, who are found mentally incompetent after being accused of a crime.
There are privately run facilities, but they are not obligated to accept patients based on court orders.
Because there was nowhere else to send her, Jackie has spent most of her time locked up in the county juvenile detention center, which is not equipped to handle children like her.
"Kids with mental health needs should not be sitting in a jail. You're not going to find any progress there," Judge Dellick said.
She said more than half the children who come into her court have some sort of mental health needs. Although very few have problems as extreme as Jackie's, the number is still alarming, the judge said.
Nationwide, the numbers appear to be even higher.
According to the National Mental Health Association, about two-thirds of youths in the juvenile justice system have behavioral, mental, emotional or substance-abuse problems.
In a written statement, NMHA president Michael Faenza said, "The number of children involved in the juvenile justice system with mental health and substance-abuse problems is a national disgrace."
He said juvenile detention centers have become the "default system" for providing mental health services to troubled youths.
Trying to help
About three years ago, Judge Dellick tried to convene a meeting of local lawmakers to talk about the lack of adequate facilities and programs for children such as Jackie. State Sen. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, was the only one who showed up.
Hagan said that the problem still exists and that the state has ignored it.
"There is a lot the state can do," Hagan said. "It's really a matter of what they want to do and whether they have the money to do it."
Hagan said he and Judge Dellick had suggested creating a facility that would accept troubled youths from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, but the idea was shot down by the Legislature.
"We couldn't get anyone to listen to us," he said.
Hagan and Judge Dellick said they will try again to resurrect local and statewide interest in the issue.
"This is an issue that transcends politics," Judge Dellick said. "This is an issue about families."