Thursday, June 23, 2011

At The Risk Of Being Mistaken For a Liberal

The June 23, 2011 Idaho Statesman reports on the case of a mentally ill man for whom the loss of services appears to have been a tragic mistake:
Gerald Durk Simpson, 54, was transported to a mental health facility in September after authorities say he shot and severely wounded a 25-year-old man who was leaving a coffee shop located near Simpson's home.
There was a community program to keep on eye on him, presumably looking for signs of increasing mental illness problems:

Simpson did the shooting soon after being removed from a state mental health program, according to police.

During the 2011 Idaho Legislature, state health officials testified that hundreds of clients had been dropped from mental health programs amid staffing cuts.

Idaho Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, was among lawmakers who expressed concerns about how well the state was following up with clients who were cut from the system, citing the shooting in eastern Idaho.

Simpson was one of about 70 people in the Pocatello area who were checked on as part of an Idaho Health and Welfare program. The checks through the program, however, in July 2010 because of state budget cuts

Read more:
I'm sure that many of the others who were also dropped did not do anything troublesome.  Still, you wonder what the net cost of dropping this program was, when you include the costs of treatment for his victim, his jail time since, evaluation by the court, and now his time sitting in a mental hospital.

Nothing is free, and no man is an island.


  1. The other question is, would being "checked on" have stopped it from happening?

    Maybe yes, but also maybe no, I suppose...

  2. Maybe yes, maybe no. No one checking in on his mental health reduces this from "maybe yes" to "almost certainly no."

  3. Since I am a so-called anarcho-capitalist, I've sometimes wondered how a stateless society should handle mental illness. I haven't looked into it, though, and while there have been no "true" anarcho-capitalist societies, there are certainly a handful of times and places (such as frontier United States, medieval Iceland) to look towards for hints towards answers.

    If only I had the free time to look into such things!

    Having said that, Idaho here has demonstrated that treating, and even just taking care of, the mentally ill, is a difficult problem to solve, with the civil liberty issues (both real and over-the-top) and budgetary constraints we have.

    Heck, my sister's on disability, and I haven't yet figured out what I'd do if Social Security Disability crashed (which sort-of looks inevitable right now!).

  4. One difficulty is that mental illness problems are more challenging as societies become more technological (increasing the harm that a crazy person can do) and more urban (since you have no idea whether a stranger's odd behavior is really dangerous or not). We do not have any experience with anarchist urban societies, and I am skeptical that we ever will.

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a great novel. So is Alice in Wonderland, but I would not try to build a society around either.

  5. This fellow did not need to be 'checked-on', he needed to be confined. Families, congregations, and volunteer agencies can handle the checking part. The problem we face in this world is crafting institutions which can reliably sluice people with schizofreniform disorders into their appropriate niche.

  6. I liked The Moon is a Harsh Mistress too, but I can't think of much in it that would describe how society ought to be organized. It was just a fun "revolution" novel :-).

    For that matter, The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith was also a fun novel, but it didn't convince me that so-called anarcho-capitalism was possible, until I learned about Medieval Iceland. Oddly enough, The Probability Broach doesn't touch what to do about the mentally ill...and my very brief interlibrary-loan-based stint into Medieval Icelandic sagas didn't have anything to say about mental illness, either, but I have a funny feeling that if I had more time to delve into such things, I would find something.

    That doesn't mean that such something would be humane, though, or even viable....

    As for frontier (including Colonial) American stuff, I seem to remember a few posts from you on your blog. I look forward to reading your book to learn more about this subject.

  7. Art Deco: I agree with you, but even a periodic welfare check to see if he was ill enough for hospitalization would be a step up from what we are doing now: nothing.

  8. When thinking about my last comment over the weekend, it occurred to me that I ought to mention that libertairian pipe dreams aren't completely futile: there are small steps we could take right now to implement these principles in our own lives, and to implement them in our communities.

    Of course, it annoys me greatly that the Libertarian Party only focuses on National, and sometimes State, politics, when they are just as needed locally!

    And it annoys me even more that I haven't yet found the time to write the blog posts that discuss what I have learned to do this, on a city level.

    One thought about the mentally ill that occurred to me as I started to type this comment was that if States can't maintain funding for the mentally ill among us, we should create private organizations that would at least check up on them. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to start such an organization (and perhaps the trickiest part would be to figure out how to train volunteers to deal with potentially life-threatening situations).

  9. Other problem: government officials enjoy certain legal protections when doing welfare checks not enjoyed by private organizations. And realistically, the amount of money involved to run such agencies is prodigious--even if done in a more sensible manner than the government.