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Author Says OJJDP Buried Suicide Report

The author of a recent U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report on suicides in juvenile facilities says that, despite the major findings it produced, the agency sat on the report for five years for reasons that have never been disclosed to him.

The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) received about $75,000 to produce Characteristics of Juvenile Suicide in Confinement. Lindsay Hayes, a project director for the NCIA, told Youth Today he handed in the report during the winter of 2004. OJJDP published the study and made it available on its website today.

Among the major findings in the report:

*More than one state agency was unaware of suicides at private juvenile facilities with which it held a contract.

*More than half of suicides at juvenile detention centers occurred within six days of a juvenile’s commitment to the facility, and only 35 percent in detention centers had been provided a mental health assessment before the suicide.

[For more coverage of the report, click here].

“I just don’t know why they put the kibosh on it,” Hayes said. “It would have got a lot more publicity. You would have been calling me in 2004.”

Hayes recalls a strange timeline that wavered between support and indifference beginning in the spring of 2004. Because the issue was so important, Hayes said, OJJDP allowed NCIA to post an unofficial version of the study on its website. Shortly thereafter, he met with OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores.  

“He said they were going to make it a bulletin, publish the full report and fast track it,” Hayes said. “But then, [the report] just sat there.”

Hayes said he called regularly to check on the report and was not called back, and ultimately “moved on to other things.”

But Hayes’s frustration grew, as recent consulting jobs with juvenile facilities made him realize how preventable many suicides were. He became “so infuriated” with Flores, he said, that in summer of 2008, “I wrote a fairly nasty letter to him.”

A day or two later, Hayes got an email from OJJDP staff saying the study had been approved and was in the publication stage, with an expected release date of 2008.

Then last December, Hayes said, he got an e-mail saying the study was no longer approved. But in January, after Flores left the agency, he was told by OJJDP that the publication would be released, five years after its submission. The study bears the name of Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and a 2009 date.

“I have a sense that Flores’ hands were all over this,” Hayes said, and that “senior staff were supportive of what I was doing.”

 

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