Certification or for that matter Incarceration is Really Treatment Failure.
But what does that have to do with seeking a Declaratory Judgment on the State's responsibility to provide Assertive Community Treatment & Housing? It's All of A Piece!
Long Story Long -- A Cautionary Tale
The first case I got after leaving the DA's Office in Oklahoma County was a Juvenile case of Robbery with Firearms and Shooting with Intent to Kill. After going over the ramifications of the charges with my young 16-year-old Black client, I advised that the DA's Office was willing to let us stipulate as a juvenile. Well, he couldn't do it because he hadn't done it -- No Way, No How. Well the DA filed a petition to certify to stand trial as an adult -- and my guy was certified. He was transferred from the Juvenile Detention Facility to the Oklahoma County Jail. I went to see my client and who should I run into but his mother -- both his mother and grandfather had been arrested on drug charges. Well, this time when I met with my young client there were tears in his eyes and he wouldn't tell me what had happened. I tried and tried over the course of time to get him to tell me what had happened, and he never would. Well at this point the deal from the DA was 25 to do. I wasn't going to plead my young guy to 25 to do AND I didn't really relish the idea of going to jury trial on this since the entire summer had been full of journalistic diatribes about how we needed to get tough on juvenile crime. In Oklahoma there is something called the "Blind Plea" -- you don't have a plea agreement with the DA's Office and you're throwing yourself on the mercy of the Court which orders a pre-sentence investigation report prior to sentencing. So my guy did end up pleading guilty to Robbery with Firearms and pleading nolo contendere to Shooting with Intent to Kill. Now I may have done some forum shopping for this, and lo and behold I got a pretty good judge AND what do you know my guy gets a 5yr Deferred Sentence and 90 days of RID (Regimented Inmate Discipline). Yahoo!!!!!!! Well RID would have killed me and my soul, but my guy LOVED IT -- I mean really LOVED IT -- he was really sorry to see it end. Now I forgot to add that the Judge put on the sentencing papers that if he got in trouble again, he should get 45 years. I think you can kind of figure out where this is going--- in a couple of years he did get in trouble again, and it wasn't failing to report to his probation officer. My concern with that case has always been that my guy needed a lot of structure and support for the next 10 to 15 years at least --- AND he THRIVED when he had structure and support. But we can't seem to ever do that.
These little 90 day, 180 day , even 1 or 2 year treatment programs have their place AND they DON"T get to the crux of the issue when people may need significant support for the foreseeable future, and institutionalization is inappropriate or could be avoided with these supports. Assertive Community Treatment is an evidenced-based treatment that is more expensive than just handing somebody a pill, and in the right circumstance it is also a hell of a lot more effective. Let's be clear, the vast majority of people do not need and would not be appropriate for Assertive Community Treatment -- and for those who are -- it can mean the difference between the jail, the prison, the nursing home, the mental institute, and homelessness. Of course, all this needs to be paired with housing to be effective. When we don't do that AND we haven't been, we put thousands of people with "mental illness" or "behavioral issues" in prison and have a lot of what are from my perspective pretty ridiculous discussions about how we can word-smith the civil commitment laws. If we will listen to people, they often tell us what they need, and we may be surprised just as I was with my young client so long ago who so enjoyed Regimented Inmate Discipline. People are individuals, and we need to treat them that way. AND that means talking to people in jails and prisons with mental illness about what they want and need.
"You fail to get people better if the system that is supporting you is flawed. . .
"We try to start with what the individual's goals are and it is very effective, especially if you really listen."
-----Dr. Kathleen McGarvey ACT Psychiatrist, British Columbia
"We also just strongly believe that people shouldn't have to jump through a million different hoops to get the support they need."
--- Barbara Baumgartner, MSW ACT Asst. Team Leader