A surge in students handcuffed, locked up and labeled crazy
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) —
The number of children taken into custody for mental health exams is surging across the state.
It's a shocking trend CBS12 Investigates uncovered. And, it's all done without the parents’ knowledge, or consent.
Involuntary psychiatric evaluations are allowed under a law called, the Baker Act. It covers both adults and children.
One in six cases involve kids.
Critics say instead of disciplining students, schools are abusing the law.
HANDCUFFED AT FIVE YEARS OLD
Jahiem is just five years old.
He showed us how officers put handcuffs on him when they detained him under the Baker Act.
“They put me in a cop car,” Jahiem said.
Then they took him to JFK Medical Center North.
Barton Elementary and school police ordered Jahiem undergo a mental health evaluation and be held for 72 hours under the Baker Act after throwing what his mother Tamara Gayle called, “a temper tantrum” at school.
“It breaks my heart because no parent should have to see their child go through this,” Gayle said. “I have to stay strong for him. Since this incident happened, it’s been devastating.”
Jahiem is in a special class that works on behavioral issues.
“What impression are you making on a five-year-old. You’re telling them if you go to school, and have a bad day, you put handcuffs on them. And make them feel like criminals,” Gayle said.
NOT MEETING THE CRITERIA
CBS12 obtained the school police report which indicates Jahiem was "screaming", “standing on tables", and "throwing class items".
According to the report, law enforcement took him for a psychiatric evaluation in "handcuffs" for "his safety."
Jahiem’s mom is angry the school police took him into custody without even telling her.
“Communicate with the parents. A five-year-old cannot damage an entire school. All you had to do was pull him aside and put him in a classroom,” she said.
Once doctors at the hospital examined Jahiem, they determined he did not meet the Baker Act criteria.
But, the incident and the fact he was committed will stay on Jahiem’s school and medical records forever.
“HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE”
The annual Department of Children and Family Services report shows Jahiem is just one of 32,475 children in Florida taken into custody under the Baker Act last year.
The number increased nearly 50 percent over a five-year period.
“We currently have a law that is, in my opinion, the single biggest source of human rights abuse in Florida,” said Diane Stein, President for Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Florida.
Stein said the law is being misused.
Half of all the involuntary evaluations involving children happen at school.
“I think it is probably miss-appropriately being used in schools as a disciplinary action to solve problems that exist that maybe they don’t have a solution for,” Stein said.
RISE IN CASES
In Palm Beach County, schools took 267 kids in to custody under the Baker Act last year.
That's an average of more than one child locked up at a mental health facility every school day.
“I hope this will never happen to another child. They’re still a baby,” Gayle said.
State lawmakers ordered a task force to study the rise in cases for children acting out in school. We traveled to Orlando for its first meeting.
One of the issues they will consider is whether there's a lack of resources - a possible reason schools 'Baker Act' if they feel they have no other option.
The task force will submit a report of its findings to the governor which could bring about changes to the law.