By Kevin Mannix,
I have been an advocate for stronger community programs to help the mentally ill ever since I participated in my community’s mental health association while in law school. We have made great progress in the last 30-odd years. Now, we face a challenge from those who purport to be our friends. The challenge comes from state officers who have developed a new approach to dealing with people who are found guilty but insane as to serious crimes. The new approach is to pretend that these mentally ill people are simply part of the community of mental health treatment and to push these mentally ill people into residential care facilities in our neighborhoods.
This has been done very quietly, but the pattern has become clear. First, as the state constructs two new mental health hospitals, it is not providing sufficient forensic facilities to house people who are guilty but insane as to serious crimes. Second, these same social planners are establishing mental health residential care facilities in neighborhoods where they are either blending forensic patients into the mix or completely housing forensic patients in facilities.
The big mistake is this: citizens who are becoming aware of these community facilities are up in arms about the lack of security which is provided, given the kinds of offenses (violent crimes and sex crimes) committed by some of those facilities’ residents.
The public image of mental illness will soon be more heavily associated with the sex offender and the violent batterer rather than the reality: the vast majority of people with mental illness need help, but they do not commit violent crimes.
My essential concern is that we will degrade public support for broad based mental health treatment programs and necessary reforms in the commitment process by associating mental health treatment with corrections types of facilities.
We need to point out, quickly, that the Emperor has no clothes. Forensic patients must be treated very differently from non-forensic patients. Blending together facilities for dealing with these two different communities of mentally ill persons is a big mistake.
Kevin L. Mannix