When you first meet Dr. Susan Feneck, you’re immediately aware that you are in the presence of keen intelligence and a highly passionate spirit. What drives Dr. Feneck is her mission to shine a light upon, and to ultimately end, the wild and rampant corruption within America’s juvenile justice system. If you ask her about her mission, you can’t help but be similarly inspired and similarly outraged.
If it is something you’ve never had contact with, you might seldom, if ever, think about the juvenile justice system, but it does affect us all, even if we are unaware of it. Our taxes support the system, and often are misused as the youth in the care of that system are neglected, abused and continually marginalized. In a country where more and more states are allowing private corporations to take over their corrections departments, we see a sharp uptick in the number of troubled youths arrested for minor infractions, charged as adults and finding themselves lost in a corporate labyrinth, designed to keep them imprisoned.
With more and more private institutions making their profit based on the number of prisoners they house for the state, they are incentivized to keep our citizens locked up rather than rehabilitating them and giving them the skills and resources to re-enter society as reformed citizens. The true owners of these prison-for-profit entities are often difficult to find as they are kept buried in layers of shell companies, but a little research turns up surprising results. Companies such as Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks and Microsoft, just to name a few, can be found among those benefiting from the world’s largest prison population. This is already terrifying news but add into that the fact that children are among the exploited and the story somehow manages to turn even more grim.
Dr. Feneck wrote her doctoral dissertation on at–risk youth and subsequently following graduation, worked in the Department of Forensic Mental Health in the capacity of a Child Psychologist in a secure juvenile detention facility for nearly 8 years where she wrote court ordered mental health evaluations. While speaking with her, Feneck said she could see the corruption by her second day. The most immediate threats she witnessed were the extremely high rate of suicide attempts, abuse of power, and moreover the unbelievable overmedication of youth. The common thread that linked every case was a fundamental lack of rights and basic human dignity. Children are given high doses of drugs and are court mandated to take them. Parents have zero control over the drugs their children are given and forced to take. The overmedication of youth frequently led to chemical dependencies which can easily spiral into repeat offenses with illicit substances, deepening the cycle of incarceration, release and re-incarceration.
Dr. Feneck took notes daily for the entire 8 years in hopes that she could take her evidence and become an agent of change. With her notes, she taught herself how to write a screenplay based on the corruption of the juvenile justice system called Jumpsuit Shackle. It has been a success with a theatrical reading at the prestigious Canisius College. She then produced, directed and shot a short film that was labeled as a world premiere. Dr. Feneck has been on the stage of a TEDx Talk in Beverly Hills, is an Instructor on the exclusive panel of “You Will Change the World” and recognized nationally for her efforts. Her other accolades are just too many to list.
These truths are shocking, and this is but a tiny fraction of the story. Personally, they were painful to learn. I find myself feeling not only angry with the system, but also ashamed to be a citizen of a country that would do this to the most vulnerable of its citizens; it’s children. Meeting Dr. Feneck means that I cannot forget what I have learned, and I too now wish to be an agent of change, and perhaps the best start for me is writing her story here in MYVEGAS Magazine. Her story is inspiring, her spirit is resilient, and her energy is truly unending. I am honored to have met her, and we are honored to feature her here among our Top 100 Doctors.
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