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The Case of Thomas Harris: Imprisoned, Violent, and Skeptical

The Case of Thomas Harris: Imprisoned, Violent, and Skeptical


Write on the case. MUST Tie in the mental health components.

The Case of Thomas Harris: Imprisoned, Violent, and Skeptical

In the spring of 2008, 18-year-old Thomas Harris sat in a locked cell in an Ohio juvenile prison, a place he’d been for 2.5 years. (This is longer than most juveniles are incarcerated, even for serious offenses.) In that time, he’d had group therapy approximately twice a month, had been beaten up 12 times, and had sustained a fractured leg and cut lip.

So when the agency that runs Ohio’s juvenile prison agreed to improve the conditions for juvenile offenders—including offering better mental health and medical treatment and reducing violence—Harris was understandably skeptical. He said in a telephone interview from prison, “They tell us, ‘We’re going to hire more staff to make you feel safer and hire more social workers so we can get you on the road to success.’ It never happens” (DeMartini, 2008).

Violence in the Ohio juvenile prison system had been escalating around this time. At the Marion County juvenile prison, juveniles attacked one another or a correctional officer 504 times in 2007, up one-third from 2006. Violence may result from incarcerated juveniles’ perceptions that they must fight to protect themselves. Violent acts may be used by juveniles to establish themselves in the hierarchy, or to get what they want. Violent behavior may also stem from a feeling of being disrespected. Whatever the reasons why Thomas Harris and others are involved in violence, such behavior must be controlled and minimized for rehabilitation to be effective.

The agreement settled a class-action lawsuit filed against the Ohio prison system by a group of child-advocacy lawyers who claimed that the system was violent and ineffective. The new plan restricted how often and when prison staff can put juvenile offenders in solitary confinement, provided more medical and mental health services, and addressed overcrowding issues by releasing inmates who served their minimum sentence and progressed in therapy.

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