Hat tip: Ron L Via Facebook
After the Sandy Hook shootings, most people will be quick to hop on the gun control bandwagon. But it’s not that simple. As it is now, Connecticut’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the country. Obviously, that didn’t stop Adam Lanza.
Thanks to the deinstitutionalization laws put into effect in the 1960′s, schizophrenics and other mentally ill individuals were moved out of state mental hospitals.
In the 1960s, the United States embarked on an innovative approach to caring for its mentally ill: deinstitutionalization. The intentions were quite humane: move patients from long-term commitment in state mental hospitals into community-based mental health treatment. Contrary to popular perception, California Governor Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 196712 was only one small part of a broad-based movement, starting in the late 1950s.13 The Kennedy Administration optimistically described how the days of long-term treatment were now past; newly-developed drugs such as chlorpromazine meant that two-thirds of the mentally ill “could be treated and released within 6 months.”14
At about the same time, two different ideas came to the forefront of American progressive thinking: that there was a right to mental health treatment, and a right to a more substantive form of due process for those who were to be committed to a mental hospital. If there was a right to mental health treatment, then judges could use the threat of releasing patients as a way to force reluctant legislatures to increase funding for treatment.15
The notion of due process for the mentally ill was not radical. American courts have been wrestling with this question from the 1840s onward.16 While perhaps not up to the exacting standards of the American Civil Liberties Union, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was something recognizably like due process before the mentally ill were committed.17 What changed in the 1960s was the result of ACLU attorneys such as Bruce J. Ennis, who claimed that less than 5 percent of mental hospital patients “are dangerous to themselves or to others” and that the rest were improperly locked up “because they are useless, unproductive, ‘odd,’ or ‘different.’”18
Until the 1960s, courts used a medical model when considering commitment: the government’s actions were part of “the historic parens patriae power, including the duty to protect ‘persons under legal disabilities to act for themselves.’ . . . The classic example of this role is when a State undertakes to act as ‘the general guardian of all infants, idiots, and lunatics.’”19 Instead, public safety alone became the legitimate basis for commitment, and with it, a more exacting standard, a bit less than is required for convicting criminal defendants.20
Neither a right to treatment nor a more demanding application of due process alone was particularly destructive, but in combination they made hundreds of thousands of seriously mentally ill people homeless,21 where many died of exposure22 and violence.23 They fell through the cracks, living shorter, more miserable lives, and often greatly degrading the quality of urban life for everyone else.24 A fraction became something quite a bit more unsettling than the mentally ill person begging on the street or disrupting the public library: they became the mad mass murderers of the modern age.