Underfunded Mental Health Can Lead To Horrendous Crime

By Barney Blakeney

The August 7 stabbing deaths of two young boys at the hand of their mentally ill uncle points to a need for more resources to support the mentally ill. Local law enforcement authorities say on any given day as much as 20 percent of the inmates at the Al Cannon Detention Center suffer some type of mental illness. But local lawmakers say they can’t anticipate more help any time soon.

Family members said 26-year-old Raashid White was struggling with mental illness when something triggered his anger. He forced his sister out of the apartment where they lived with her two young sons, ages two and eight. When police arrived they found the two boys stabbed to death.

Charleston County Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas said throughout his 34-year career in law enforcement he’s had to deal with the mentally. Most only are a danger to themselves, but on occasion some become dangerous to others, he said. White’s family obviously didn’t think he’d be a danger to them. “You never can tell,” Lucas said.

In addition to the mentally ill, there are individuals suffering with emotional distress. But the pendulum regarding treatment for mental illness has swung in the opposite direction form decades ago when the prevailing thought was to institutionalize mentally ill individuals. People are walking around with mental illness and somehow find ways to co-exist, Lucas said. But sometimes they come into conflict with the law.

Charleston County Sheriff Department spokesman Maj. Eric Watson said over the past two years about 60 percent of deputies have received crisis intervention training to help them when confronted with mentally ill individuals. Charleston County is fortunate, Lucas said. As one of the state’s larger communities with a large detention facility resources are available such as the relationships with mental health agencies such as the Medical University of South Carolina and Roper/St. Francis Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center. And the department has a Therapeutic Transport Unit. Those advantages provide the department a more balanced approach to dealing with mentally ill individuals, Lucas said.

David J. Mack, III

Still, law enforcement only comes into interaction with the mentally ill after the fact, Watson emphasized. He and Lucas say more resources have to be put in place before things get to that point.

North Charleston Rep. David Mack, a psychology major in college, spent a year after graduating working at the S.C. State Hospital’s maximum security ward. He realized then, he said, that mental illness is a disease any one can contract. But our society and the legislature don’t treat it as such. As with other medical issues, South Carolina’s general assembly remains relatively insensitive to the needs of the mentally ill, Mack said.

The Department Of Mental Health operates some 60 community-based outpatient mental health centers serving about 100,000 patients per year. But the state’s 2017 $216 million appropriation to the agency keeps it woefully underfunded, he said, and doesn’t afford quality care to individuals who may not have adequate insurance to secure better care.

“There’s a segment of our community that cares about the mentally ill and there’s a segment that has another agenda,” Mack said. “I don’t see any change in their attitude on the horizon. Until that changes we’ll continue to see people walking around talking to themselves. Some of them will commit crimes. Unfortunately some of them will commit horrendous crimes,” Mack said.

2 Comments

  1. M. Justice on August 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    State legislatures will be forced to stop abusing people afflicted with serious mental illness (SMI) once the populace comes to understand the true nature of these disorders. SMI is neural, not psychological. Society would never tolerate the criminalization of a neurocognitive disease such as Alzheimers.

    Sadly, it appears that Raashid’s family did not fully understand his illness. The complicity of a cohort of factors (Lawmakers, elements in the psychology/psychiatry community, the antistigma “advocacy” community, lawmakers, and the prosecutorial apparatus) that lead to criminalization is undermining society’s ability to understand just how grave these neural disorders can be. This puts families at risk, the victim of SMI at risk, and sometimes people external to the family.

    The criminal justice system and other cohorts like to convert SMI to a rationalized emotion, such as anger….resulting from the “struggle with mental illness…as so often stated in media reports”. The rationalized emotion is in turned blamed for the act of violence, which becomes the justification for criminal culpability. This represents a profound misunderstanding of psychosis. DueJusticeProject

  2. cajuan.king on September 3, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Identify those “struggling with mental illness”, ENROLL them in Obamacare, have them evaluated by Medical University of South Carolina and Roper/St. Francis Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center.

    Problems solved for everyone concerned !

Leave a Comment