Casualty of the State

Rainey Watkins went to juvenile prison depressed and suicidal. Then she got even worse.

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One Sunday afternoon in July, a 13-year-old inmate at the Riverview Juvenile Correctional Facility ran cussing and screaming into the rest room, where she hurled snacks and fruit juice against the wall and refused to come out. For 30 minutes, corrections workers tried to calm her down. Rainey Watkins yelled and swore at them. Then she threatened to kill herself.

Four Riverview staffers forced her into a rubber-walled isolation room. There, they demanded her shoes, socks, and bra, fearing she might use them to harm herself. When she refused, a guard put a leather travel belt around her waist and tried to handcuff her. Rainey locked her arms and held tightly to her shirt to avoid being shackled.

When she suddenly swung her arms, guards secured her against the wall. One held her arm at the wrist, pulling it straight by placing his other hand just above her elbow. When she began to kick, another guard grabbed her leg.

The lopsided configuration of two male corrections workers and an out-of-control girl began to topple. One said he heard Rainey's arm snap as the three fell to the ground. Another heard a "loud popping sound" once they hit the floor. Rainey said she was on the ground trying to elbow one of the guards when she felt someone punch her on the elbow, causing it to twist and crack.

There's no dispute over what happened next. Rainey screamed. The guards backed away. Firemen rushed her to the hospital.

Rainey suffered a spiral fracture, which happens only when a bone is twisted with force, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol report. The break required surgery and placement of a bolt and pin. Based on witness statements and physical evidence, however, Trooper Kevin Brun determined that Rainey's break "appears to be an accidental injury, caused by the youth-inmate's failure to follow directions." Case closed.

But it isn't over for the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, which found that Riverview staffers have broken children's arms on five separate occasions in the past 18 months. All the children were girls. And all had behavioral and mental problems.

Nor is it over for Rainey's mother, who can't understand how well-trained corrections workers injured her daughter. Nor can she understand why the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS) -- which protects the public from children like Rainey -- could not protect Rainey from itself.

Brenda Watkins has a difficult time weaving together the darker threads of her daughter's past. There are things she would rather not remember, things permanently blocked from recall. She doesn't know why Rainey's illness accelerated just a few years ago, turning her from a typical girl to a tortured teenager.

When Rainey was nine, she began to get short-tempered and defiant. Watkins thought her daughter's mild behavior problems were just a phase. On the recommendation of a school principal, however, she took Rainey to therapy.

"We wanted to nip it in the bud," Watkins recalls.

But the next few years were troubled ones for Rainey, according to her mother. She was allegedly molested by a man who also beat her mother. When Rainey was 12, a friend of a relative befriended her and soon started taking her on "dates," which usually consisted of a ride in his car followed by sex. At roughly the same time, boys at Rainey's school for behaviorally handicapped children began grabbing at her breasts and pawing her repeatedly when the teacher wasn't looking.

Watkins was unaware of all this at the time. She just knew her daughter was going through something terrible. Something that made it difficult for her to pay attention in school. Something that kept her from doing much of anything besides sleeping and watching television.

Then Rainey tried to stab herself. She gulped a dozen Tylenol. She sliced at her wrist. In December 1999, she was admitted to Laurelwood, a psychiatric hospital in Willoughby. She would be discharged and readmitted, then discharged and readmitted again. During one stay, her mother says, Rainey let a boy into her room to use the bathroom. He fired a bullet into his head as Rainey stood outside the door. (Laurelwood declined comment.)

After that, she started hearing voices. She also began to make allegations that were either untrue or could not be substantiated. She accused her mother of hurting her.

By this time, Rainey's emotional problems made it difficult to separate fact from fiction. But Watkins believed the stories of sexual abuse. (A therapist would eventually support the girl's claims as well.) She fears the abuse her daughter suffered and witnessed caused the child to further act out against peers and teachers.

From May 1999 to June 2000, Rainey racked up 11 assault charges -- low-degree felonies or misdemeanors -- many of them against authority figures. Court records show she kicked a principal and pushed a social worker. She fought with other girls. She even punched a county deputy.

Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Russo was responsible for doling out the consequences. In July 1999, his magistrate sentenced Rainey to probation. A month later, she was back in court on another assault charge. From August 1999 to April 2000, she was sent to the detention home three times. A stint in shelter care ended when she bit a staffer.

Rainey assaulted people just about everywhere she went. Russo felt she needed intensive psychological treatment at a long-term residential center. But after two months of searching, three centers had turned Rainey down. One was full. Russo felt compelled to get her out of the detention home, where she wasn't improving. So he sent her to Riverview, the only ODYS facility for female juvenile offenders.

"In a nutshell," he says with resignation, "there was nowhere else to place her."

Watkins, 31, has a permanent breathlessness about her. She is a woman to whom adulthood came early. At 14, she gave birth to the first of her four children, and she hasn't stopped running to doctors, schools, and activities since. At her home in the Outhwaite housing project, a wall calendar is so full it's unreadable. Four mornings a week, she attends GED classes -- unless she has to do something for the children, which is often. She's been trying to get her high school equivalency since 1991.

One gets the sense that Watkins is doing the best she can. But she still wakes up in the middle of the night, tormented by the knowledge that her daughter is suffering and she's powerless to stop it.

Watkins has but one recent picture of Rainey -- a flimsy Polaroid taken at Riverview over the holidays. The image is of a sweet-faced girl too uncomfortable with herself to smile. But Watkins lightens the photograph's maudlin mood with splashes of bright memories. She talks of Rainey singing, Rainey drawing, Rainey laughing with her sister late at night.

Rainey, it seems, has become the mighty Mississippi of her mother's life, the queen river to which all conversational tributaries flow.

From Cleveland, Riverview is more than two hours by car -- $128 by Greyhound and cab. Watkins doesn't drive; she's been able to visit Rainey only five times. But the corrections workers she calls never fail to speak of her daughter's troublemaking. Their words offer only slight variation from the familiar themes of obstinacy and aggressiveness. Rainey challenges the staff. She gets into fights. She resists treatment.

Watkins says Riverview doctors have prescribed several medications in the past year, including Risperdal, Zoloft, and Effexor. She wonders if Rainey's problems are related to the drugs. Sometimes the girl can't stand up without feeling as if she's about to fall over.

And ever since Rainey's arm was broken in July, Watkins has been wondering about the corrections workers themselves. She says the ones at the medical facility of the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Complex, where Rainey was taken after her injury, failed to stop her daughter from having sex with a boy in the shower. A few months after that, Rainey said she was fondled by a guard. When Watkins reported the incidents, she was told that Rainey was given a pregnancy test, which was negative. She hasn't heard anything since.

On February 26, seven months after staffers broke Rainey's left arm, Watkins received even more bad news.

"A nurse called me and told me my daughter broke her own arm."

Incredulous, Watkins demanded the full story. After much probing, the nurse finally told her that corrections workers had again restrained Rainey, and they had again broken her arm -- this time, the right.

When Watkins confronted her daughter, "Rainey said they were doing a check, and she had to call out her number. But she didn't say it right, so the officer asked her to come back out in the hall and say it again, because she didn't say 'sir.' And she started cussing at him. He said he'd have to put her on a program. He said she'd have to stay alone in a room for a period of time. He said he was going to make her sleep standing up. She said she wouldn't sleep standing up. He twisted her arm while he was restraining her. She was hollering, and he just kept twisting her arm until it broke."

Trooper Kevin Jewett never got a written statement from Rainey. After interviewing her, he said her version was "identical" to that of the corrections workers -- not at all like the one she gave her mother. According to staffers, Rainey was loud and disrespectful on the way back from lunch. When a unit manager told her she would have to go to the isolation room because of her behavior, she raised her fist and stepped toward a male operations manager. The two staffers grabbed her arms and placed her against the wall, then took her to the ground face-first when she started kicking. Rainey locked her hands together underneath her body, refusing to be handcuffed. As the operations manager was pulling Rainey's right arm behind her back, it broke just above the elbow.

The day after she heard about the incident, Watkins was still enraged. She sat down and wrote to Judge Russo. What her letter lacks in proper grammar, it makes up for in raw anguish:

"Now if that was me breaking my daughter arm they would of called 696 kids on me and put me in jail, and I'm the one that birth her into this world. But when some kind of professional do it they say 'there's nothing we can do' and I don't think that's right. Every time my daughter gets injured they tell me its her fault and they want to add more and more time to her records. I think my daughter learnt her lesson and its time for her to come home because they is mistreating her down there and she didn't do nothing that bad for her to be treated like that."

She concluded by asking Russo to grant her daughter an early release or at least place her somewhere "close to home away from riverview."

While Russo pondered the letter, Trooper Jewett investigated Rainey's second broken arm in seven months. He determined that staff had used an authorized control technique. The case was closed.

ODYS spokesman Kevin Miller says an internal investigation cleared staffers of any wrongdoing stemming from the first arm-breaking incident. The investigation of the second is ongoing, but he says it appears Riverview workers did not violate any rules.

William Denihan, executive director of Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services, is still unsettled by the reports. He sent investigators to the Delaware facility, located just north of Columbus. They discovered that, in the past 18 months, there have been five incidents of guards breaking girls' arms. By comparison, ODYS recorded only eight restraint-associated bone breaks in all nine of its facilities last year.

"It's kind of unbelievable," Denihan says. "I find it unacceptable."

ODYS must have also sensed something was amiss. In November, it asked Thomas Rice, a former highway patrol superintendent and Columbus safety director, to review the incidents. Rice found similarities among the victims. First, because Riverview is an all-girl facility, those injured were naturally girls. But he also discovered that, throughout the entire ODYS system, all but two children who suffered broken arms while being restrained were girls. And at Riverview, he found that all the injured lived in a cottage for girls with special behavioral and mental problems.

Rice, who now works part-time for ODYS, noted that Rainey's arm and the arms of two other inmates were broken before staffers were trained in a new response-to-resistance policy that he helped develop as an independent consultant.

But none of this soothed the fears of Brenda Watkins. "I just want to get her out of there and get her the help she needs."

ODYS doesn't comment on the specifics of children in its care, and Miller refused a request by Scene to interview Rainey. He cited opposition from the girl's psychologist and social worker, who said an article about Rainey would only be "empowering this type of negative behavior."

"By doing this, all you're doing is shining a brighter light on a youth that has some very big issues," he says they told him.

But Rainey's biggest problem at the moment may be prison itself. Mark Singer, a professor of social work at Case Western Reserve University, believes a child fitting her profile needs a "well-defined clinical treatment regimen," including therapy and schooling from teachers trained to work with emotionally disturbed children. Placement in a juvenile prison, where the emphasis is on correction, can make children like Rainey worse, he argues.

"In general, [Ohio's juvenile prisons] are probably underfunded and understaffed for the treatments and interactions they should be providing."

Yet Ohio offers few options for this type of psychiatric care. State hospitals began closing in the 1960s so the mentally ill could be treated at private centers in their communities, instead of behind institution walls. But over the years, caring for the mentally ill became too expensive, insurance companies refused to pay for it, and government money began to disappear. The result was the closing of more hospitals, psychiatric wards, and treatment centers. Since 1999, the number of licensed psychiatric beds for adolescents dropped from 477 to 384, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH). The number of beds for younger children fell from 165 to 145 -- in a state with 2.8 million kids.

In the past 11 years, spending for the ODMH has declined relative to inflation. And soon, as the legislature struggles to meet a school-funding mandate, the budget is likely to shrink again.

"Not only do we have a crisis now; the crisis is going to get worse," says Terry Russell, director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Ohio. "There's going to be less care in the communities for kids and adults over the next two years at least, and who knows for the future."

Penny Wyman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies, echoes that sentiment: "The system has shifted the emphasis from providing care for kids in residential facilities, where there's 24-hour supervision and lots of staff support. We've moved a lot of those kids to treatment foster care, many of them inappropriately, and an even greater number of those kids have ended up in the juvenile detention system, a lot of them inappropriately, with the results you've seen with this 14-year-old girl."

A study of ODYS inmates conducted from 1995 to 1996 found that 27 percent of boys and a staggering 86 percent of girls had significant mental illness.

But Dr. Nancy Cunningham, ODYS bureau chief of correctional health care, says her department provides much by way of mental health services. Children with special problems are assigned a team of experts, including teachers and psychologists, who develop special treatment plans. The ratio of psychology staff to inmates isn't at the level of a psychiatric hospital. Yet at 45 or 50 to one, it's better than other juvenile correctional systems, Cunningham says.

For the most severely ill, the department has a 30-bed unit similar to a psychiatric ward. Some children are so disturbed, "we've had to put gloves on them, because otherwise they would have chewed their fingers off," says Miller.

Yet the dual mission of punishing kids while at the same time treating them is often difficult to reconcile. Mental health advocates say that clash was evident on July 23, 2000, when Rainey's arm was first broken. Her injury would not likely have occurred in a therapeutic setting, they assert.

Youth law expert Mark Soler, who reviewed the highway patrol report, notes that no mental health professional was consulted, even though Rainey threatened suicide. Psychologists and social workers may have been able to control Rainey without resorting to force.

Soler also says guards may have used more force than necessary, once Rainey was in the isolation cell. At that point, she was only refusing to give the staffers her shoes, socks, and bra, and did not require handcuffs.

Considering Rainey's background of sexual abuse, it was unlikely that Rainey would surrender her bra, then submit to handcuffs, when three of the four guards present were men.

"There's a very high likelihood that, by using this type of force on girls -- and on a lot of boys too -- there's a danger of recapitulating that abusive behavior that they've been victim to before," says Soler, president of the Youth Law Center, which helps children in the juvenile justice system. "That is one of the reasons kids resist this kind of physical force -- they are reliving in this way the experience of being abused."

When a therapist who treated Rainey between October 1998 and April 2000 heard about the incident, she wrote a letter to Judge Russo echoing Soler's concern. Charisse Peoples states the reason that Rainey resists having to remove her clothing in the presence of male corrections officers. In light of Rainey's past sexual abuse, Peoples says, she "is likely retraumatized by these procedures."

Yet ODYS's Rice defends Riverview's actions. He said no mental health professional was available during the July incident, or one would have been consulted. He also believes Rainey's treatment plan must call for handcuffs and the removal of her socks, shoes, and bra when she acts suicidal. And staffers, he notes, are not allowed to deviate from the plan.

"They are between the devil and the deep blue sea," he says of the staff. "They are going to have to go in there, and they're going to have to follow the plan."

Rainey continues to heal physically, if not psychologically, in the Scioto medical complex. By mid-May, she will have served the two consecutive six-month sentences Judge Russo ordered. But because of bad behavior, she will remain in ODYS custody until at least June 13, her mother says.

If she hadn't waived counsel and pleaded guilty to assault the last time she was in court, she might have been out by now. Public defender Sam Amata has filed a motion to withdraw her plea, based on the girl's questionable competency. If he prevails, Russo may release Rainey early. This is where Rainey's disastrous record at ODYS may actually help her.

"The department has been unable, because they are not a therapeutic facility, to reach to the core of the child's behavior issues and provide any effective therapy or in any way diminish the child's aggressive behavior," Amata writes. "In fact, the department's approach seems to have worsened the child's condition."

In response to Amata's motion, Russo will likely call a meeting of minds with everyone responsible for Rainey's well-being. The question is, what to do next?

It's unclear what ODYS wants, but Watkins will push for Rainey to be placed in a residential center in Cleveland, preferably on an RTA line, so Watkins can visit her daughter frequently. Last week, Rainey's parole officer told her that Parmadale, a therapeutic facility, was considering admitting her.

But for now, both Rainey and her allegations of abuse remain in limbo.

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