Clayton Cramer posts a rough outline of his next book, "The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions: Mental Illness, Deinstitutionalization, and Homelessness". As I've written before, I'm no fan of new government programs or statism, but I think our society made a big mistake when courts took the power to institutionalize the mentally ill away from state legislatures on the basis of civil rights. Mr. Cramer agrees and explains how we got where we are -- and hopefully his future book will suggest where we should go from here.

Alcohol and drug abuse are not the only layers of complexity on top of mental illness. Sometimes mental illness leads to criminal behavior. In the late 1990s, a rather strange character showed up at the church we attended in Rohnert Park, California. Jim had been sleeping in the fields on the edge of town with his dog, getting around by bicycle with a little trailer for the pooch. Our pastor had previous experience with mentally ill people, having worked in a homeless shelter, but this man did not quite fit the mold.

Jim did not have an obvious drug or alcohol problem, and he told a story of governmental oppression that for the first five minutes, I could not immediately discount. His kids had been taken from him. His wife was locked up in a mental hospital. It was all a vast conspiracy against him! The more I talked to him, however, the more apparent it was that his thought processes, while not completely chaotic, were scattered and confused. Then he showed me the paperwork that had taken away his children. Jim was so confused in his thinking that he did not realize what that paperwork showed.

Jim's wife had been confined to a mental hospital, apparently because of physical abuse of their children. Jim's parental rights had been terminated—-apparently permanently—-by a court order in another county some months back, because Jim had been showing hardcore pornographic films to his five year old and his three year old, then molesting them. Why had the county not prosecuted Jim? The documents provided no information, but it seems likely that the prosecutor realized that a successful prosecution would require two small children to testify against their father—-having already lost their mother to mental illness. Under the best of conditions, this would have been a hard case to win in court, and it would certainly have been traumatic for the children.

Obviously, Jim was potentially a hazard to other children. In 1950, his mental illness would have earned him a commitment to a state mental hospital for the criminally insane. Even without the necessity for a criminal conviction, a judge would certainly have committed Jim against his will based on the testimony of a psychiatrist. Not today. Instead, Jim wandered the streets, telling his tale of woe. The best that we could hope for is that his mentally disordered thinking would be obvious enough to prevent anyone from putting their children at risk from Jim.

Having recent first-hand experience with the mentally ill, I can say with confidence that despite my love of liberty there are some people who simply should not be allowed to roam free, for their own safety and for the good of society.



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