Yesterday, Velveeta pointed us to this article
. I strongly urge you to read the entire article. No mother, no father -- no family or loved ones should have to go through what she writes of. Sadly, and not surprisingly, here we are once again.
In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness. (...)
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan -- they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist. (...)
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise -- in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
It's a horrible situation, compounded by something else even more horrific: Ms. Long lives in Idaho.
Idaho has no insanity defense. Last month the Supreme court decided not to hear a case challenging the states lack of one.
It took months of medication and treatment for Loughner to understand the charges against him. That comes as no surprise, given the disturbed-looking photos of him after the crime. And the country got a similar view of violence and untreated mental illness in James Holmes, the 24-year-old who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July. Both Loughner and Holmes spiraled out of control while enrolled at a university yet fell through the holes of the health care net that should have caught them. This is a story we’ve been hearing since at least the 2007 mass killing by a student at Virginia Tech.
The mental illness of criminal defendants, however, is not of current interest to the Supreme Court. This week, the justices turned down a case challenging Idaho’s complete lack of an insanity defense. In Idaho, “mental condition” is not a defense to any charge of criminal conduct. In the case the Supreme Court won’t hear, John Joseph Delling, a paranoid schizophrenic, shot and killed two of his friends and wounded a third while seized by the delusion that he was a “type of Jesus” and that his friends were “taking his energy” in a way that would kill him. A psychologist testified that he truly—and delusionally and tragically—believed he had to stop his friends to save his own life.
Delling, like Loughner, had to be medicated for a year before he could be found competent to stand trial. At that point, the judge found that when he committed the killings, he was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. But Delling was still guilty of murder, because there was no insanity defense for him to plead. Think about that for a minute: The state was saying that a man who was so insane that he could not understand that it was wrong to kill two of his friends was just as culpable as a sane person.
In 2006, the Supreme court made it easier for states to be a little bit more mean-spirited about the insanity defense
, The Model Penal Code as defined by the American Law institute is "A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."
in 2006, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio all block defendants from using this defense.
James Holmes, Jared Loughner and John Joeseph Delling all will go away for life. Two of those three we know have been medicated well enough to finally understand what they did. By the time the risk factors had metastasized into violent tendencies, IT WAS TOO LATE -- Too late for them and too late for their victims. It is too late for those killed in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. We still don't know what happened there, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that a young man - barely at that - killing his mother, teachers educators and 20 babies had something happen in his mind.
Mental illness should not be treated as a crime. The time to treat it is before a person that is sick spirals so out of control. We need to as a nation provide for better access to mental health care. It needs to be taken as seriously as cancer. We need to stop treating it as a stigma and a human defect or flaw. It's an illness. Too many lives are lost to death or to a prison system that is not capable of helping our sick.
I have to point out that it’s very rare for mentally ill people to become deranged killers. According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, studies show that having a mental illness in itself doesn’t increase the likelihood of becoming seriously violent. Untreated mental illness, however, is a risk factor. And so it is terribly scary, as well as terribly sad, that “America’s mental health care system is horribly broken and horribly underfunded,” as Robert Bernstein, director of the Bazelon Center, underscored after the Arizona shootings.
Serious mental illness can be incredibly hard to live with and to deal with. But these shootings keep telling us that we sweep it under the rug at our own peril. After a massacre like Aurora, it’s very hard to see the killer as worthy of any sort of sympathy. "They keep talking about fairness for him," a man whose sister died in the Aurora shootings told the Associated Press at Holmes’ court appearance this week. "It's like they're babying this dude." It’s an understandable reaction, but if Holmes’ lawyers are right and he is seriously ill, he won’t be coddled by the legal system. He’ll get the treatment he needed, but far too late.
We do have a serious Gun problem in this nation. The flaws of our gun culture are magnified by the gaping hole that is the untreated human beings in our nation. Velveeta asked Why?
yesterday. She pointed out that there are a small number of people in our nation that prey on the fears of our citizens. Their number are small, but they are loud and vocal and people believe what they say. On Saturday, BobR wondered about the romanticizing of guns in our culture
Even worse, once again those who support gun rights over everything else are saying that teachers should be armed, or at least there should be armed guards at every school. To what end? Following this to its logical conclusion, it would mean armed guards on every street corner. Our country will become a prison, and we the inmates. The 2nd Amendment was originally proposed as a hedge against hegemony within our borders. It's ironic, then, that those who consider that amendment to be the most important are proposing a solution which contradicts it's intent. In an effort to protect a "right" that ostensibly prevents a police state, they are proposing a scenario which is exactly that.
Why? Today my answer is: I don't know
More prisons and more guns is simply not the solution. Time after time again we have been shown this. We must not accept our insanity as something that is hopeless and untreatable. We must deal with it. Anything less is truly insane.