DRNC launched Bring NC Kids Home in January 2021 to shine a light on the abuse that happens in some PRTFs.  We told you for the next few months we would give you a front row seat to the realities of these facilities, called Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs). Highlighting the work of Joonu Coste (Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by an anonymous donor) and Kishona Mimms (Senior Investigator), we are sharing stories about the children in these facilities, how PRTFs operate, how they are funded, the limitations to their regulation and why that means that abuse and neglect persist.    

Today we introduce you to “Derrick,” one of Coste’s clients.   

Derrick’s story: disability criminalized

Many people expect that when a child is placed in a PRTF, they will get the help they need. But often, the quality of care is poor. Sometimes, staff members press criminal charges against the child for the very behaviors they are supposed to be treating.  

That is what happened to Derrick.   

Derrick was at a PRTF to receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He has PTSD from severe neglect and the traumatic accidental death of a close family member. He also has an intellectual disability.   

One evening, Derrick received word that a beloved family member was violently shot to death. He was grieving this loss greatly. He wanted to call his father to talk. However, waiting in a long line was just too much and he broke down. He began to pace the hall.   

Staff trailed Derrick and this caused him to panic. The situation escalated. He told the staff to leave him alone, that he just wanted to talk to his dad.  A staff member alleged that during the interaction, the teen hit him. Staff pressed criminal charges against Derrick.   

The facility was understaffed that evening, failing to meet state regulations for staff ratios.  A staff member called law enforcement once they realized they could not maintain a safe environment.   

In the middle of this was a grieving teen who just wanted to talk to his dad.   

The facility failed, but it was Derrick who was charged.  

A positive outcome … this time

It took more than a year, but earlier this month, Coste convinced a judge to drop the charge against Derrick. However, there are many kids in PRTFs who are being criminally charged instead of getting mental health treatment they desperately need. Very few of these kids have legal representation with experience in mental health disabilities and the way PRTFs operate. Some of these kids are sent out of state, charged out of state, and will serve their sentences out of state. This criminalization of our kids due to the failures of the facility must stop.  

In the coming months, we will share more of Derrick’s story with you. Coste continues working to get him discharged into more trauma-informed services. 

Learn more

Interested in joining our efforts to end abuse in PRTFs and Bring NC Kids Home? Visit our campaign page. There you can sign up to receive news and alerts, follow DRNC’s work on this issue, share your own story, and learn how you can help.