Originally created 11/20/02

Boy goes on suicide watch



Seventeen-year-old Jason White, whose parents are fighting to have him moved out of the Augusta Youth Development Campus, is on suicide watch after cutting his wrists with the metal end of a pencil.

Jason cut himself last week, then pulled out the staples that were holding the wounds closed the next day. The YDC staff took him to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville on Thursday, and he returned Tuesday. This was the third time the teen has been taken to Central State for harming himself since being moved to the south Augusta boys' detention center in August.

Jason's mother, Donna Luke, of Macon, said she visited him in Milledgeville on Saturday while a guard waited in the hallway. He had cut himself twice on the left wrist and three times on the right wrist and didn't want to talk about what he had done, she said.

"He said I didn't know what it was like in there," Mrs. Luke said. "He had his head laid in my lap almost the whole hour and a half."

Jason, who was profiled in an Oct. 28 story in The Augusta Chronicle, is one of more than 1,000 teens and children with psychological problems who are being held in Georgia's 31 juvenile detention centers. The Lukes are pressing for him to be moved to a psychiatric hospital, but Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez has said the mental health unit in Augusta is the best place for Jason, given his needs and his propensity for breaking the law.

The department is moving toward early intervention programs and treatment centers, but right now detention is the only option for Jason, Mr. Martinez said. An estimated 40 percent of Georgia's incarcerated youths have been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Juvenile justice officials maintain that Jason is not seriously mentally ill, but his mother and stepfather, Mike Luke, say he has bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

Jason has a history of running away, stealing and behaving disruptively. His parents said they didn't know the extent of his psychological problems until after he was locked up by the Juvenile Justice Department.

Last summer, a south Georgia Juvenile Court judge recommended that Jason spend a year in a youth detention center after finding him guilty of escape, theft and obstruction of a law enforcement officer stemming from his running away from a wilderness camp, stealing a bicycle and fleeing police.

In the first cutting incident at the Augusta YDC, Jason used a piece of glass to cut his arms and wrists. The second time, he used a button to slash a vein in his arm, according to the Juvenile Justice Department.

On Wednesday, he used the eraser-holder on a pencil, Mr. Martinez said.

Mr. Martinez said he could not say anything more about the case because the Lukes have indicated they might sue the department.

The case also is being looked into by the Georgia Advocacy Office, which advocates for people with disabilities and mental illnesses.

"Honestly, if he's there three months from now, he's not coming home," Mrs. Luke said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.