"Drugging detained children is like using a chemical straitjacket" – Professor Jerry Flores writes article for The Conversation Canada

September 26, 2018 by Kate Paik

Professor Jerry Flores has written a piece on the disturbing truth and effects of pharmaceutical violence imposed on migrant children by detention centres in the U.S. for The Conversation Canada.

He discusses the long-term effects of the Trump administration's forced separation immigration policies, and how forcibly medicating migrant children for the purpose of submission often leads to mental health disorders and an increased risk of becoming chemically dependent. The article parallels his research interests, which include prison studies, studies of race and ethnicity, and Latina/o sociology.

Professor Flores is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus.

An excerpt of the article is posted below (the full article can be found here).

A chemical straightjacket

...While the Trump administration’s forced separation immigration policies have since been suspended, and some of the children returned to their families, the long-lasting impacts of such treatment remain troubling.

Judge Gee’s recent decision mandates that the government must obtain consent or a court order in order to administer psychotropic medications to children, barring an emergency. She also ruled that officials must tell children in writing why they are in a secure facility.

Her ruling was in response to a lawsuit launched by the Centre for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. According to the lawsuit, the medications serve as a “chemical straitjacket.” In other words, officials were sedating children who had no existing psychological conditions.

According to several reports, children at Shiloh Treatment Facility in Texas have been given up to 15 different pills a day. Those who refused were threatened with further time in confinement. Moreover, children in other locations who complained about missing their parents, begged to leave or who staff deemed to be a “problem,” were sent to Shiloh to be medicated.

Detention drugs lead to street drugs

Sadly, we’ve seen this dynamic in the past. Detention centres are infamous for overly medicating incarcerated individuals in order to obtain their cooperation.

Ethnographic studies of American prisons, from the 1940s up until the present day, reveal the misuse of medications by detention staff as a common problem.

In a milestone case, Walter Harper sued the Washington State government arguing that they could not medicate him without his consent. This led to the Washington v Harper Supreme Court ruling in 1990 that allows detention centres to medicate incarcerated individuals.

While conducting fieldwork with incarcerated young women in southern California recently, we discovered a similar pattern. Officials in detention centres were dosing women in their care.

These young women were diagnosed with mental health disorders and compelled to take drugs while in detention. They became chemically dependent. Upon leaving prison, they were barred from access to the medications they had in custody, leading them to take street drugs, drink and engage in other high-risk behaviours.

Most young women reported feelings that prison staff prescribed psychotropic medication to regulate their actions, behaviours and personal freedom. In other words, these detainees, many of whom were Latina, were fitted with the same “chemical straitjackets” used on migrant children today.

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