Teen justice system neglect cost her daughter’s life, mother claims

Madison Johnson had what was described as a personality that would light up a room, but below the surface laid emotional struggles.
Published: Nov. 10, 2023 at 8:18 AM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - A Barbour County woman believes her 15-year-old daughter would still be alive had an agency that oversees troubled children done the job it promised.

“Madison (Johnson) had a personality that would light up a room,” but Vanessa Johnson admits her sometimes defiant teen struggled emotionally and had behavioral issues.

“The (juvenile) judge and I agreed that she would go to (Southeast Alabama Youth Services),” a Dothan lock-up for troubled children known as the diversion center.

Vanessa Johnson said because of her daughter’s emotional struggles, she was to be on suicide watch, but Youth Services failed to perform those duties Johnson said they promised.

As she drove down the road on September 30, about a month after Madison entered the program, Vanessa received a phone call.

“Your daughter hanged herself,” the staff member told her.

She believes that had the diversion center staff done their job, she would still have her daughter.

“If (they) had been coming to check on her every 10 minutes we could have gotten her back, every 20 minutes we could have gotten her back; hours later that was no signs of life,” she said during a press conference at her attorney’s office.

She also questions why, on suicide watch, staff issued Madison the sheet used to take her life.

“They had a responsibility to Madison and this family to keep this from happening and as a result Vanessa has lost her daughter and we’ve lost Madison,” said attorney Calvin J. (Cal) Whaley of the Cherry and Irwin law firm.

Whaley said he plans to file a lawsuit naming Southeast Alabama Youth Services in Houston County Circuit Court.

Southeast Alabama Youth Services did not respond to a request for comment.

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