If Friday’s post by Dr. Torrey isn’t enough to raise concern about our mental-health system, consider that, even if criminals are finally committed to a facility after a violent act, the fight to keep them there never ends.
Earlier this year I spent weeks in an evidentiary hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as the U.S. Attorneys’ office, an Article III judge, and a mental patient’s attorneys debated whether to release a patient, attempted Reagan assassin John W. Hinckley, Jr.
It’s a complicated situation that I won’t go into here, but for all intents and purposes they want him to be released into the care of his 85-year-old mother in Virginia despite the fact that the Secret Service currently follows Hinckley when he is on furlough because he is a Class III threat (i.e., people of most concern for carrying out an assassination attempt). It was only through this Secret Service surveillance of Hinckley that the court learned of his continued deception regarding even simple matters while he was alone on furlough in Virginia. While one psychologist supports his release, the two psychiatrists who testified were adamantly opposed. Hinckley’s attorneys failed to explain to the court what guarantees there were that he would stay on his medication once away from the mental hospital.
I think that this is a barometer of where America is on handling mentally ill patients who are violent threats: A man who shoots four people on a crowded street is now being considered for release from the mental hospital with no guarantees or assurances that he will continue taking the medication required when living among the general public. And that patient has been caught lying to the U.S. District Court, to his own psychiatrists, and to others, and looks at books about presidential assassinations, Ronald Reagan, and Jodie Foster when at the bookstore. Hinckley only admits to these things after incontrovertible evidence, such as Secret Service reports, photographs, or computer logs, is presented to him.
The petition is with U.S. District Court judge Paul L. Friedman (Criminal No. 1981-0306), who is expected to rule on the case soon. For what it’s worth, my impression of Judge Friedman is that he is a fair and reasonable man who I do not think will release Hinckley. However, as we know, not all judges are fair or reasonable, and I fear it is just a matter of time before Hinckley is released.