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.

Tag: mental illness


Help – not jail – for Pierce County’s mentally ill

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

They’re called the Top 55, which sounds like a good thing. It’s not.

They’re revolving-door customers of the Pierce County Jail – repeat offenders who have also had contact with the mental health system. Many have a history of substance abuse.

As a group, the Top 55 puts an inordinate financial strain on the jail, which is facing a $4.2 million shortfall. Each has gone to jail at least five times in the past 12 months, and in 2012 they accounted for 5,499 days in the facility.

Because of their mental health

Read more »


2013 Legislature must deal with mental illness

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

People with untreated mental illnesses don’t fund political campaigns or employ powerful lobbyists. It was easy for Washington and other states to skimp on their care after the economy went south five years ago.

It’s taken a whack with a two-by-four – an onslaught of preventable assaults and murders – to persuade some lawmakers that psychiatric care for the poor is not a luxury that can be dropped in hard times.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the catalyst. The killer may or may not have suffered from a psychosis, but – following other atrocities in Colorado and elsewhere – he taught the country how dangerous a disturbed man with a deadly weapon can be.

Three priorities need action from Legislature this year: care, involuntary commitment and access to guns. The three are closely interconnected.

Above all, the state must provide more therapy options to more people. People with serious psychiatric disorders tend to be poor, for obvious reasons. Few can afford the intensive treatment and continuing care they need.

Mental illness should not be equated with threat. The vast majority of those who live with some kind of disorder are harmless. But a small fraction – notably males with schizophrenia, a history of drug abuse and a record of violence – account for more than their share of attacks on others. They are especially prominent in mass shootings.

Lawmakers can lower that threat through simple humanity, by making psychiatric care more accessible to everyone who needs it but can’t pay for it. That means expanded outpatient therapy and case management, and it may mean restoring beds at Western State and Eastern State hospitals.
Read more »


Today’s psychiatric hospitals: Jail, the street, the courts

Once again, a severely delusional man has been charged with murder. The victim, Robert Maline, was a respected teacher and the accused killer was his own son.

The killing reminded me of a piece a former Connecticut lawmaker published in The Washington Post last week. Paul Gionfriddo was in that state’s House during the 1980s, “when many of the state’s large mental hospitals were emptied.”

“I jumped at the opportunity to move people out of ‘those places,’” he wrote. But Gionfriddo and others made what he called “a series of critical misjudgments.”

Among them: “We didn’t adequately

Read more »


Suffer delusions, go to jail.

The question, on page 1 of Tuesday’s paper: “Where to put mentally ill jail inmates?”

On Police Beat, page B2, the answer: in jail.

Once upon a time, a poor soul like this would have been committed to an actual hospital and gotten treatment.

Aug. 29: The milk was poisoned, the man said – so he stabbed it with a kitchen knife.

Officers responded to a report of a man with a knife at a grocery store in the 4000 block of South Tacoma Avenue. The report said the man was stabbing milk cartons and screaming.

The officer arrived and cautiously edged toward the dairy section. He saw a man crouched by Aisle 9, near a cooler. A broken jug of milk left a puddle nearby. Puddles of milk and the remnants of other containers marked a trail along the aisle.

Two other officers joined in. They took the man down and cuffed him. He didn’t resist, but he wailed about the poisoned milk. No one was listening to him, he said.
Read more »


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

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.
Read more »


A family’s portrait of the accused Key Peninsula shooter

We had two surprise visitors this morning: Jennifer and Reno Sorensen, mother and brother of the 20-year-old woman accused of shooting three people Saturday – apparently at random – at a store on the Key Peninsula.

Laura K. Sorensen stands charged with attempted murder. Jennifer and Reno wanted to tell the family’s side of the story – a harrowing account of living with a severely disturbed girl prone to delusions and violence.

They’d written that story and asked if we’d run it. We saw it as an opportunity to give readers a rare family perspective on a shocking incident of

Read more »


Pierce County Jail makes a poor psychiatric hospital

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Treating the mentally ill on the cheap can cost a fortune. The shocking overtime costs at Pierce County Jail are yet another example.

Those costs are expected to run $1.8 million over budget this year. Some of that may be a result of sloppy management – without an in depth analysis, there’s no way to tell.

But there’s no question that some of it is being driven, as Sheriff Paul Pastor maintains, by the high cost of dealing with inmates with serious psychiatric illnesses.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jail, roughly 118 inmates with serious mental illnesses are being confined there at any given time. Some of them are housed in a section of the building that’s been turned into what amounts to a psychiatric wing. Others are held maximum security.

An additional 150 or more don’t suffer from acute illnesses – but are sick enough to require psychiatric medications. The jail’s budget for mental health treatment, coincidentally, is $1.8 million.

The Pierce County Jail, in other words, is not just a jail: It’s also a psychiatric hospital under a different name.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Pierce County. It is common throughout the United States, and its roots stretch back to the 1960s. That’s when the country began “deinstitutionalizing” the severely mentally ill – moving them out of psychiatric hospitals that were sometimes grim and dehumanizing.
Read more »


Too broad a net misses too many psychotic killers

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Every time a mass murder happens, people with psychiatric illnesses get nervous. For good reason.

James Holmes, who’s been accused of gunning down 12 people in a Colorado theater July 12, turns out to have been seeing a psychiatrist who specialized in schizophrenia. There’s no proof yet that Holmes was mentally ill, but he may well fit into a familiar profile: the man with the diagnosis, the grudge and the gun.

Jared Loughner, who disabled Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others in Tucson last year, was psychotic. Seung Hui Cho, who massacred 32 at Virginia Tech in 2007, had actually been declared mentally ill by a judge and ordered into treatment.

Closer to home, Maurice Clemmons appears to have had delusional spells in the months leading up to his murder of four Lakewood police officers in 2009.

It’s all too easy to make a connection between mental illness and violence.

The reality is more complex. Broad studies have demonstrated that no single category of mental illness, by itself, is linked to higher rates of violence. In any case, it is grossly unjust to stigmatize all people with psychiatric illnesses as potential killers.

Another layer of the complexity, though, is the fact that mental illness is often a factor in mass murders – a rare but extremely shocking type of crime. The question comes up again and again: Why can’t we keep guns out of the hands of people like Loughner or Cho?
Read more »