In the days of old it didn’t take much to commit someone unwillingly into a mental ward – even those who others might have considered not insane, but merely odd. These institutions often had living conditions so inadequate that they were enough to make even the most stable people do extreme things. For this reason and others, the law has changed so that the prosecution must prove to a judge that one is a “danger to oneself or others” before they can be forcefully committed (or forcefully medicated). The burden of proof is so high, that many are now slipping through the cracks and go on to commit crimes, including mass shootings. Even those that never become much more than a nuisance are still left unable to function in society without treatment and make up a large percentage of the homeless. Of course, the mentally ill often refuse treatment because they don’t think there is anything wrong with them, and they don’t think there is anything wrong with them because they are mentally ill.
Although the state cannot treat someone unwillingly (even when accused of a crime), they can and do send them to facilities to make them competent to stand trial. If this proves impossible, it effectively becomes a life sentence without ever having been found guilty of anything. Even when made competent and bussed back to the jail to await trial, the stresses of jail (sometimes the jailer forgets to issue the inmates their meds) often cause them to revert to a state of incompetence before trail can begin. Some people have been bussed back and forth for years. As stressful as jail and other institutions are for “normal” people, they are much more so for those with untreated mental illness, and they often get into all sorts of additional trouble. For example, those on suicide watch are disallowed blankets or clothing for fear they may strangle themselves – even when temperatures routinely drop below fifty Fahrenheit. There is currently no institution in the US capable of caring for those with untreated mental illness with anything even remotely approaching dignity.
The author clearly stands on the side of advocating making it easier to forcibly treat the mentally ill for their own good. This attitude scares the crap out of me. Who is mentally ill? There are those that have suggested that liberalism is a psychological disorder. By the poor policy choices they endorse, one could make the case they are a “danger to themselves and others.” There are those that have suggested that global-warming-skepticism is a psychological disorder. I’ve been told by some that my philosophies of life, friendship, romance, authority, and freedom are symptoms of ASD. Are all philosophies neurological in origin? In the nineteenth century, runaway slaves were said to have drapetomania. Why do people commit crimes anyway? Some have suggested psychological or even genetic origins for crime. Are all criminals crazy? Should we forcibly treat everyone convicted of a crime?
At the same time, treating or confining those who have not yet committed a crime or shown clearly that they are dangerous reminds me a bit too much of the movie Minority Report. Realistically, there is no way to know that one will commit a crime without waiting for them to actually do it. Living with crime is just one of the costs of living in a free society.
Then again, maybe I’m the crazy one.