Shooting underscores need for serious debate about mental health policy

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: December 23, 2012

This can have severe consequences for all citizens. A 2011 paper by Steven P. Segal at the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil commitment laws.

Liza Long, a mother in Boise, Idaho, has blogged about dealing with her mentally ill 13-year-old son who has threatened to kill her or commit suicide. When Long asked a social worker for options, she was told to have the boy charged with a crime. Sadly, post-crime incarceration has become the main venue for mental health treatment. In 2010, the Treatment Advocacy Center reported there were about 3.6 seriously mentally ill individuals in Oklahoma jails or prisons for every one in a hospital. Nationally it's estimated those with serious mental illness comprise about one-fifth of inmates.

All these statistics suggest it may be time lawmakers re-evaluate statutes governing involuntary commitment and debate better funding for mental health treatment. The ACLU may oppose the first, and the latter may require diverting funds from other areas of government (although it may reduce prison costs). Still, the debate should commence.

While there may be a financial cost to increasing state mental health treatment, situations like the Connecticut shooting indicate the price for nontreatment may be far higher and paid in the blood of innocents.

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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