This NYT article shows how the national discussion about “mental health” and school shootings has been irrational and misguided.
Mr. Sawyer was charged with aggravated assault, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder — all felonies — and held without bail. Many in Fair Haven, a town of 2,700 residents on the western edge of Vermont, exhaled, believing they had stopped America’s next mass shooting.
The citizens in this case…the mother, the friend… did the right thing by reporting their concerns. However, it baffling why law enforcement authorities charged the young man as they did, knowing what they do about the law.
The populace has been led to believe that the criminal justice system can proactively deal with people before they have realized dangerousness. This is what happens when neuropsychiatric illness is treated as a behavioral problem and criminalized. The article shows why the criminal justice system cannot be a proactive line of defense where serious mental illness is involved. The law can only act if unlawful behavior has occurred. People in the dysfunctional mental health system like to say that ‘it is not a crime to be psychotic’. Well, that is correct, but competent medical professionals do know that neurological detachment from reality (psychosis) can be an acutely dangerous medical state if untreated. The CJS does not police and punish people’s thoughts. However, the mental health system can contain people in hospitals or long-term structured residences if they have a medically dangerous brain disorder that calls for institutional care and residency. The mental health system is failing to perform these functions:
- Involuntary commitment laws are weak and unreconciled to what medical science understands about serious mental illness.
- Disability, mental health, and civil rights advocates have misled legislators about the distinction between “mental health problems” and disorders that cause psychosis
- The crisis and recovery model approach to SMI – Chronic, persistent brain disorders are treated like emotional or psychological disturbances that periodically erupt into crisis episodes. The system maintains “beds” rather than long-term structured residences in order to stabilize crisis – after which the individual is released back into inappropriate housing situations. Disability Rights advocates and state legislatures erroneously claim that the Supreme Court’s Olmstead Ruling mandates this illogical and harmful approach.
- The dangerousness standard for involuntary treatment has conditioned the minds of policy and decision makers in the mental health system so that they are unable to act with good judgment.
The Florida School shooter realized his dangerousness because his serious mental illness was improperly treated as a behavioral problem by Florida’s mental health system and because that system did not behave as if it was their responsibility to protect the afflicted individual and society.
As law professionals know, extreme cases make bad law. There is the disconcerting prospect of bad law arising out of the situation in Vermont.