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January 11, 2011

New Republic: Hey, Maybe Instead of Talking About "Rhetoric" We Should Talk About The Actual Problem, Mental Illness

There's an idea. Captain Ed digests the New Republic article, or you can read the original.

Basically, reformers (as they were termed; the winning side is always called "reformers") rolled back the power of the government to involuntarily commit the insane. They did this out of fear of government abuse (and there were abuses), and out of respect for individual liberty and dignity.

Involuntary commitment can now only occur if bright-line factors are present: Specific threats, specific actions of violence (including attempts to commit suicide), etc.

But the general category of "so friggin' crazy and delusional I know this guy is going to do something someday to someone" is not grounds for involuntary commitment. Even if someone is clearly a bug-eyed bugfuck crazy Nephew Fester like Loughner, you can't commit him. I do not know but you can probably put someone in for 48 hours evaluation or something like that (I think I remember that from law school an episode of CSI I saw last month) but unless they give evidence in that time of one of the bright-line causes for commitment, you let them out after. Even if they're plainly off their trolleys.

It's a tough question, especially for a libertarian-minded conservative, because, absent evidence that a crazy person is going to do something violent, what right do you have to deprive them of their freedom and subject them to what is, for all intents and purposes, criminal incarceration without an actual crime?

Further, as far as nanny-stating and size of the government -- it costs money to lock people up this way. They're not criminals so you can't just warehouse them (and even that's expensive); you also have to pay for doctors and treatments and such. With the government already unable to pay for the responsbilities it has undertaken, how can any fiscal conservative justify a bold new area of government growth?

On the other hand: One can argue the government really never should have abandoned this particular mission to this extent, as ensuring the public safety-- and caring for those who plainly are incapable of caring for themselves -- is a core government mission.

But still: The cost.

Interesting question. I have no real answer to it. I could answer out of pure ideological reflex but I don't really like doing that.

Not So Tough? For a while now I have wanted a national effort (state action, but national effort) to improve and toughen our laws on stalking and criminal harassment.

It occurs to me that a large fraction of the crazies we have to keep our eye on run afoul of these laws, but suffer no consequence, because the laws are on the books but largely unenforced and not taken seriously by police.

Loughner, clearly, was sending around threats -- and I think Dupnik is flat-out lying when the claims the threats were not directed at Giffords. I think they were, and, per the Democrat Chair of Pima county, I suspect we'll find a treasure trove of information on the department's hard drives demonstrating this.

So there was predicate for state psychiatric intervention -- the crime of threat/harassment/stalking had been committed. That is a strong enough predicate to get the system into gear, to demand up to weeklong confined psychiatric evaluations, and to commit the person in question if he either 1) subsequently reoffends or 2) makes it plain during his evaluation period he intends to reoffend.

This would be fair and just -- there would in fact be the predicate of a crime before subjecting someone to incarceration, whether civil or criminal.

And it would in fact catch about 80% of these guys. Sure, some nutters just break without showing many outward signs, and we'd miss them. But 80%, I'm guessing, do break plenty of laws along these lines before they start shooting people. And if someone like Political Pundit Dupnik (who is a hobbyist sheriff in his downtime) could just take an interest in the pathologically weird before they start killing people, we could avoid a number of horrific murders.

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posted by SPADES-OF: ACE at 12:54 PM

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