Ann Althouse pointed out an interesting statistic regarding the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and crime.
Deinstitutionalization played a substantial role in the dramatic increase in violent crime rates in America in the 1970s and 1980s. People who might have been hospitalized in 1950 or 1960 when they first exhibited evidence of serious mental illness today remain at large until they commit a serious felony. The criminal justice system then usually sends these mentally ill offenders to prison, not a mental hospital.
The result is a system that is bad for the mentally ill: prisons, in spite of their best efforts, are still primarily institutions of punishment, and are inferior places to treat the mentally ill. It is a bad system for felons without mental illness problems, who are sharing facilities with the mentally ill, and are understandably afraid of their unpredictability. It is a bad system for the victims of those mentally ill felons, because in 1960, a mentally ill person was much more likely to have been hospitalized before victimizing someone else. It is a bad system for the taxpayers, who foot the bill for expensive trials and long prison sentences for the headline tragedies, and hundreds of thousands of minor offenses, instead of the much less expensive commitment procedures and perhaps shorter terms of treatment.
Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was one of the truly remarkable public policy decisions of the 1960s and 1970s, and yet its full impact is barely recognized by most of the public. Partly this was because the changes did not happen overnight, but took place state-by-state over two decades, with no single national event. While homelessness received enormous public attention in the early 1980s, the news media’s reluctance to acknowledge the role that deinstitutionalization played in this human tragedy meant that the public safety connection was generally invisible to the general public. The solution remains unclear, but recognizing the consequences of deinstitutionalization is the first step.
Read the whole thing. It was written before the horrific event in Newtown, CT, but it still applies.
Nobody wants to see every American with issues locked up, if that were to happen we’d all be locked up. But there are ways to identify those who pose a threat to society. The inner voice in me screams to stop, because the last thing we want is more government intrusion into our lives, even if that means unleashing these lunatics on society. But how does society function when known sociopaths are allowed to walk free, while the media sensationalizes the last sociopath, only to feed into the delusions of the next sociopath? Plus, it certainly doesn’t help that so many of our lawmakers are insane.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’m operating on the assumption that the dialogue in the coming days and weeks is going to be all about keeping guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens, while brushing society’s sociopaths under the rug until the next unfathomable tragedy. I also don’t trust the current government enough to believe they would get the right people off the streets. So maybe we should watch what we wish for here.
Via The Other McCain