I recoil from “should have” conversations. When we talk about “should have”, an opportunity has already been lost.
But the judge should have had a choice. Confronted with a defendant with a serious and complicated mental health history who had repeatedly failed to comply with a court order, the judge should have had a better option than raising his bond and throwing him in jail.
There should have been real money spent years ago, intelligently, on an entire network of mental health facilities that included drug and alcohol rehabilitation where the judge could have ordered this mentally ill, chemically-addled defendant into treatment immediately.
There should have been mental health and substance abuse counselors paid equal to probation and parole officers with offices and resources stationed right in our courthouses. These experts would be required to evaluate any documented mentally ill or substance-dependent defendants promptly after arrest, then monitor those defendants and recommend treatment of any clinically recognized category, including placement in a locked-down hospital setting.
The same experts would be available to offer testimony when summoned by a judge so that the judge could make an intelligent, informed order as to which door the defendant uses to exit the courtroom: jail or hospital.
The defendant, our client, was put in lock-up and then transported to Bridgeport Community Correctional Center, (BCCC). He entered BCCC late that afternoon, and our firm was on the phone to BCCC throughout the following day, a Friday, trying to arrange a phone intake and evaluation to a private mental health and drug treatment facility. We left four messages for the counselor assigned to our client’s section, or “block”. We learned that he had been placed in the medical section Thursday night but was then placed in general population by midday on Friday.
A psychiatrist in the medical section said that she would try herself to contact the assigned counselor and have that person call our office. She sounded concerned and sincere and she expressed relief that we were trying to place our client in a private treatment facility. But we heard nothing.
The counselors left at 3:00.
We’ve now lost two days and our client is adrift in what for him many not be much more than a sensory hurricane of noise, perceived danger and real danger.
It is a disgrace that we are so far behind in our courts. Mental illness pervades our society and too many mentally ill individuals are incarcerated because we have nowhere else to put them. This infrastructural, intellectual and professional deficit leaves our courts and justice system perpetually reacting. We throw the same hackneyed language and non-solutions around while the problem builds and builds like a gargantuan offshore tsunami.
We will be back on the phones first thing Monday, trying to find a durable solution that is in the best interests for this young man and his family.