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Report faults detention of mentally ill youths

WASHINGTON -- Thousands of mentally ill youths are unnecessarily put in juvenile detention centers to await mental health treatment, a House committee reported yesterday.

The report, compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee, found that centers usually are not equipped to treat mental illness, and in some cases the youths have not been charged with a crime.

''The use of juvenile detention facilities to house youth waiting for community mental health services is widespread and a serious national problem," said the report, which found that two-thirds of juvenile detention facilities hold youths who are waiting for mental health treatment.

The report, which its authors said was the first of its kind, was prepared at the request of Representative Henry Waxman of California, the House Government Reform Committee's top Democrat, and Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

''Thousands of youth who are in need of community mental health services are stuck in jail until these services become available," Waxman said in a statement.

The report identified 698 juvenile detention facilities, defined as correctional facilities holding people age 21 and younger who are awaiting charges or trial or who were recently tried. Seventy-five percent of the facilities, or 524, responded to the survey, including facilities from every state but New Hampshire. The survey covered six months, from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2003.

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