Prozac Found In System Of CYA Teen Found Dead — (KCRA Channel)

Original article no longer available

KCRA Channel

POSTED: 5:22 pm PST February 26, 2004    UPDATED: 8:32 am PST February 27, 2004

State Senator Threatened During Prison System Investigation

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An autopsy report on two teens who committed suicide in a California Youth Authority facility showed something that came as a big surprise to one of teen’s parents.

Deon Whitfield, 18, and former Stockton resident Durrell Feaster, 17, were found hanged inside a Preston youth facility dorm room in mid-January. Officials believe the acts were suicides. The autopsy report shows that at the time Feaster died, he had significant amounts of Prozac in his system.
Feaster’s mother, Gloria Feaster, said neither she nor her husband ever gave the California Youth Authority permission to administer such a drug.
California Youth Authority officials did not comment specifically about the case Thursday, but they did explain their psychotropic drug policy for minors. The CYA says it always sends out a consent form to parents. If the parents don’t respond within 21 days, a parole agent visits their home to try and gain consent. If that proves unsuccessful, the CYA can and does ask a judge to grant permission to administer drugs — like Prozac — without the parents ever being notified.
It is a policy that is again in the crosshairs of outspoken CYA critic, state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.
“That is a very serious drug, with no notification to parents. That concerns me. If CYA is doing that, those policies need to be re-examined and stopped. There are parental rights,” Romero said.

State Senator Threatened

Romero also announced Thursday that she was the victim of a death threat during the middle of her investigation into the California prison system. On Feb. 13, a letter addressed to Romero and containing white powder was sent to a correctional training facility next to the Salinas Valley State Prison, according to officials. They say the letter contained threatening language like, “getting killed over some inmates isn’t smart.”

The California Highway Patrol and the FBI are investigating the possibility that the letter was sent by a state employee, possibly a prison guard.  Romero released a statement Thursday, saying she remains steadfast in her effort to clean up California’s corrections system.

“I want to make it very clear: I will not be intimidated by threatening messages and acts of cowardice,” Romero said in the statement. “It is a shameful day in California when a Senator and her family are threatened with death for doing the work of the people who elected me to serve them. I do not intend to keep looking over my shoulder or conduct my work in fear. I will not succumb to any threats or stop my prison visits.”

The FBI has tested the white powder and determined it is not dangerous or toxic.

 

Original article no longer available

Youth Radio

By Sara Harris

October 14, 2008

Investigations into the most recent suicide found answers the Division of Juvenile Justice did not want to hear […] kids have been caged and subjected to extended lockdowns enforcing weeks and weeks of isolation.”

Listen to this Commentary!

California’s youth penal system has been under fire from critics for a number of years. Notorious reports of beatings, months-long isolations, and so-called “teaching” cages have led to courts ordering reform in the Juvenile Justice Division of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Since 2004, no less than four young men have committed suicide while in prison. One year after the latest suicide, Youth Radio producer and L.A. Bureau Chief Sara Harris looks into what may be causing young inmates to take their own lives. (August 27 on KQED)

Sharon Garcia has worked for California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, for 25 years. She talks about the institution as a family, and the juvenile offenders its “surrogate children.”

GARCIA (on tape)
You know you’ve talked to them, you took them to the dining hall for dinner, you helped them mail letters to a girlfriend, um talked about school, talked about college, and then that young person chooses to take their life.

SARA
If DJJ staff describes the place as a family, it’s one where the surrogate kids have been caged and subjected to extended lockdowns enforcing weeks and weeks of isolation.

Allen Feaster is the parent of a child who committed suicide while incarcerated in California youth prison. At 15, Allen Feaster’s son, Durrell, was convicted for theft and receiving stolen property and was sent to youth prison. Three years later, in January 2004, Durrell and his roommate were found hanging by bed-sheets in their cell, side by side.

Allen Feaster is still looking for answers.

FEASTER (on tape)
I don’t KNOW what happened to my son. All I know is what has been told to me. But for me to agree with that, no I don’t.

SARA
Feaster says he was given a toxicology report that showed his son had traces of the anti-depressant Prozac in his bloodstream when he died. The DJJ is required to notify a parent or guardian before giving psychiatric drugs to wards.

FEASTER (on tape)
I was never told that my son was given any anti-depressant drugs.

SARA
Feaster says his son did have a diagnosed mental illness – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – but that he was being improperly medicated for that. Now Feaster is suing the institution in federal court for wrongful death and for violating his son’s civil rights.

Sara Ludeman is an information officer for the California Division of Juvenile Justice. She will not discuss Feaster’s claims directly, but she describes the suicides as horrible tragedies, for the families, and for the DJJ staff.

LUDEMAN (on tape)
We still feel a responsibility, but I don’t know that we can be held accountable.

SARA
As to Allen Feaster’s other claim, Sarah Ludeman says that the Department of Juvenile Justice does have policies about administering psychiatric drugs.

LUDEMAN (on tape)
Certainly there are consent forms any time um a psychotic or antidepressant medication is given to an individual. We are in contact with the family any time any medication is given a youth.

SARA
A review of the coroner’s report confirms Durrell Feaster did have Prozac in his bloodstream when he died. Allen Feaster maintains he was never contacted about it.

A year and a half after Durrell’s Feaster suicide, eighteen year-old Joseph Maldonado was found hanging by his bed sheets at the Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Stockton, California.

The State Inspector General, Matthew Cate, conducted an independent investigation, talking to family, guards, and other youth inmates. Prison staff had put Joseph and all other Northern California Latino inmates on a 23-hour lockdown in response to an outbreak of violence.

CATE (on tape)
For eight weeks, ward Maldonado was in his room all day every day, not receiving counseling, not going to school, and basically only allowed out of his cell for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour three days a week for showers.

SARA
He says that one year after he had recommended 23-hour-lockdowns be abolished, they were still prevalent.

CATE (on tape)
From my perspective, it’s common sense that if someone is locked in a cell for that amount of time with basically no contact from the outside world, and they commit suicide, one of the possible reasons has to be that lockdown.

SARA
For it’s part, the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Sara Ludeman maintains that the practices and conditions in its youth prisons are not at the root of youth inmate’s suicides.

LUDEMAN (on tape)
Certainly we can Monday morning quarterback any incident and look at it and say, should we have seen something else? Should we have seen there was a more severe mental illness in that individual… We have teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, medical professionals… We can’t be 100% right all the time, and that’s all I can really say.

SARA
Staff and even administration interviewed by the Inspector General say California’s Division of Juvenile Justice has a long way to go before they will be providing the minimum of psychiatric care to the most vulnerable of youth under their charge – those at risk for suicide.

But, the Inspector General has no authority to enforce his recommendations. He says that is up to the Governor.