October 1, 2010; Source: Youth Today | Our colleagues at the excellent national nonprofit newspaper, Youth Today, which is the go-to source for coverage of the youth services field, have produced a stunning and very disturbing piece of investigative journalism. Associate editor John Kelly (assisted by reporter Ben Penn) released the findings of their yearlong investigation of state juvenile systems, revealing that many states administer “potent anti-psychotic drugs intended for bipolar or schizophrenic patients,” even when the incarcerated youths have not been diagnosed with those disorders.

Youth Today was able to get responses from 16 states, suggesting that the 34 other states wouldn’t or couldn’t provide information on the use of five primary anti-psychotics (Abilify, Geodon, Seroquel, Risperdal, and Zyprexa), generically called “atypicals.” According to Kelly, “critics believe . . . that prisons now use drugs as a substitute for banned physical restraints that were once used on juveniles who aggressively acted out.”

Some people support the use of atypicals as not particularly problematic, but others oppose them entirely when used as a first resort, as a former dean of the Temple University College of Health Professionals said. The Youth Today report is detailed in both what the few states that responded were able to reveal about their use of atypicals and the areas of incomplete information from both the responding and non-responding states.

The subtext of Kelly’s article is a message to the nonprofit sector: nonprofits have to ramp up their monitoring of government agencies to ask hard questions about the treatment of their constituents by government agencies that may not be getting much public oversight or scrutiny.—Rick Cohen