While most people admit there are problems in the way the legal system deals with offenders who have a mental illness, there is also much of which to be proud.
The Deseret News asked mental health and corrections officials, as well as advocates for the mentally ill, for their view of the strengths and weaknesses in that system. Here are some of their comments:Dr. Robert J. Howell, psychologist, professor at BYU, consultant to Utah State Prison and State Hos
pital: "The weakness is obvious. I think it's a shame that the prison is so completely punishment-oriented. So many of the mentally ill people just don't respond to punishment. A patient at the State Hospital who kicked and hit at people was sent to time-out for a half hour. At the prison, it could mean seclusion for 30 days."
Joy Verde, Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill: "One thing I would like to see happen more often is the
judge order an inmate to a mental health facility before parole or probation so he can get stabilized. But many don't qualify because, although they commit criminal acts, they are not the least bit suicidal or violent.
And I wish people - everyone - knew more about mental illness. People think if someone is mentally ill, you can tell it by looking at him. You can't. Some seriously mentally ill people look just fine."
Hunter Finch, staff supervisor, Orange Street Community Correctional Center: "In past years, the
State Hospital and prison had too much power over the mentally ill. Now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. They have so many rights.
"The two systems were set up to do totally different things. Law is for community protection. Mental health is more treatment-oriented. Just trying to integrate those two very different missions that have more not in common than in common . . . It works here because we've really worked at making it."
Dale Schipaanboord, director of Habilitative Service for Corrections: "It's a community problem.
We're doing all we can. The community is more involved. People are interested and sincerely want to help, so we have volunteers in the community willing to come in. And Corrections is making this a priority. Clearly, the first responsibility is protection and community security. It's expensive putting someone out here. If we can prevent someone from coming back . . . "
Janina Chilton, Utah State Hospital public information officer: "The biggest problem is the lack of bed space both in the
prison and the State Hospital. Right now, the courts can send someone directly to us whether we have the space or not. If we don't have a way of stopping the flow, we won't have any civil commitment beds left. We're going to have to look at some way to correct that."