Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

A failed mental health system, a mother’s plea, a tragedy

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm with 3 Comments »
August 14, 2012 6:00 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Almost never have we devoted this space to a subject we covered just a day earlier.

But almost never have we run an op-ed like the one you’ll find on the opposite page, by Reno and Jennifer Sorensen. They are, respectively, the brother and mother of Laura K. Sorensen, the young woman accused of shooting three customers in a store near Wauna on Saturday.

They tell a story that ought to be mandatory reading for every lawmaker in Washington. Every lawmaker in the country, for that matter.

Our focus Tuesday was the folly of underfunding treatment for the severely mentally ill and imagining they’ll get by unsupervised, untreated or unhospitalized. Left to themselves, they inevitably wind up in some kind of trouble.

Many are preyed upon. Many wind up in jail after committing offenses they wouldn’t have committed had they gotten the care they needed.
Jail is no substitute for a functioning, accessible mental health care system – the kind of system that might help disturbed souls before they act on delusions, fear and anger. Jail is no place for someone whose fundamental problem is schizophrenia, paranoia or some other psychosis.

They don’t heal there. Many jails – including Pierce County’s – can’t afford and don’t have full-time psychiatrists. Jail staffs can’t require psychotic inmates to take medications. The atmosphere and sheer stress of incarceration work against recovery.

The Pierce County Jail staggers under the burden of handling the 100-plus severely ill inmates routinely housed there. They require high staffing levels.

Some are on suicide watch; some must be physically restrained; some attack guards and fellow inmates.

When they’re released to the streets, they often stop taking their medications and land right back in jail.

A year ago, Jennifer Sorensen – after futile attempts to get her daughter into treatment – wrote a prophetic plea to Gov. Chris Gregoire. Excerpts:

“The mental health care system in this state is absolutely broken. My daughter has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, paranoid type. She goes through life miserable and angry. She threatens strangers in public and destroys property. …

“My daughter is back in county jail for the second time this week. She is 19 years old. Jail is not the place for her! It will not help her! She will not get better there!

“If something doesn’t change, there will be a tragedy in her future. This is my prediction and it seems to mean nothing to anyone but me.”

Unmistakably disturbed and angry people must be connected with psychiatric care. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to figure that out.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. MrCarleone says:

    In other words, its not Laura’s fault, its our fault that she took a gun and attempted to murder several people !

    Sorry, no tears !

    Sick to death of this Hug-A-Thug Crap !

  2. This is by no means ‘Hug-A-Thug Crap’ as you so articulately put it. No one is negating responsibility for this horrific incident, but shedding light on how instances like these are completely preventable if we treat mental illness like we would any other life threatening disease. With cancer, for instance, treatment is begun as soon as symptoms are shown and a diagnosis made. If this girl had received the treatment her family so desperately sought, this tragedy would never have occurred. Now is the time for preventative measures to ensure the safety of each and every individual, the mentally ill included.

    I’m sick to death of society waiting until people get hurt for action to be taken!

  3. Trueblue22 says:

    As is the case with most issues these days, it all comes down to money. State and local budgets have been cutting more programs every year. Mental health treatment is not immune to these cuts. Jails are clearly not the proper place for mental health treatment. In fact, it ends up costing taxpayers more to house minor criminal offenses in jail versus an outpatient or inpatient mental health program. But in this current election climate where voters are against anything that costs money, we can expect more innocent people to be victims of more crime. I understand that local money coffers are empty. A better discussion would be how important our are local services such as mental health (or lack of) to our community.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0