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“It’s Like Everyone’s Trying to Put Pills in You”: Pharmaceutical Violence and Harmful Mental Health Services Inside a California Juvenile Detention Center

Abstract

This article discusses how mental health staff at a California juvenile detention center coerced young women into taking pharmaceutical drugs. Current empirical work discusses the negative effects of consuming pharmaceutical grade drugs. Some work has addressed how incarcerated individuals are forcibly sedated with these medications. We use a legal violence framework, however, to show how legal proceedings allow medical staff at our site to coerce youth into invasive therapy and eventually into consuming pharmaceutical drugs. We call this multiple stage process pharmaceutical violence. Based on 24 months of ethnographic research, we describe the three phases of pharmaceutical violence and how it negatively affects the youth in our study. Our findings shed light on research related to mental health, legal violence and the experiences of incarcerated youth.

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Notes

  1. The first author collected all the data for this article. The writing, editing and analysis were undertaken collaboratively. For the sake of expediency and style, “we” is used in this section instead of “I” or the name of the first author.

  2. To protect the identity of the young people, we have changed the name of the juvenile detention center where we conducted our research. All of the names used in this article are pseudonyms that were chosen by our research participants.

  3. For the purposes of this article, we adopt the definition of “psychotropic” as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations (42 C.F.R. § 483.45(c)(3)(i–iv)):

    1. (3)

      A psychotropic drug is any drug that affects brain activities associated with mental processes and behavior. These drugs include, but are not limited to, drugs in the following categories:

      1. (i)

        Antipsychotic;

      2. (ii)

        Antidepressant;

      3. (iii)

        Antianxiety; and

      4. (iv)

        Hypnotic.

    While some young women in this study reported that they were prescribed antianxiety and/or antidepressants, others did not know the name or type of medication that they had been given and could indicate only whether the medication had been prescribed by a psychiatrist.

  4. “Latinx” is a gender-neutral label for Latina/o and or Latin@ (see Salinas and Lozano 2017).

  5. In Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution permits a state to treat an incarcerated individual who has a serious mental disorder or illness with antipsychotic medication against his or her will, provided that the individual is a danger to himself or herself or others and that the medication prescribed is an effective means of treating and controlling a mental illness that is likely to cause violent behavior.

  6. The city of El Valle is approximately 74% Latino/a. White Americans make up most of the remaining population. Almost all the youth were arrested for minor drug-related or status offenses.

  7. Our analysis also included a thorough examination of “negative cases” or alternative explanations. When we were confronted with a negative case, we addressed it in the text or incorporated into our larger analysis.

  8. Our participants referred to the mental health practitioner in this detention center as a “psychologist,” but he was in fact a psychiatrist licensed to prescribe medications.

  9. The diagnosis and medicating of these young people were conducted by one lead psychiatrist and a team of mental health workers. To the best of our knowledge, this lead doctor oversaw all diagnosis and medications that were distributed in the facility.

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Correspondence to Jerry Flores or Kati Barahona-López.

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Flores, J., Barahona-López, K. “It’s Like Everyone’s Trying to Put Pills in You”: Pharmaceutical Violence and Harmful Mental Health Services Inside a California Juvenile Detention Center. Crit Crim 27, 643–662 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-019-09480-6

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