Published February 17. 2014 4:00AM
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy can spare a minute from throwing money at everything from state colleges to burrito restaurants, and when the General Assembly can spare a minute from legislating to curtail freedom of information and the variety of puppies sold at pet stores, they might look at Connecticut's latest catastrophe of mental illness.
The story, drawn from police and news reports the other day, goes like this.
A 47-year-old woman said she went to the psychiatric ward at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and declared herself to be preparing to hurt someone but was disbelieved and sent away. She telephoned a mental illness crisis intervention service and repeated her declaration, also without eliciting interest. So she went to the home of her mother, 70, in West Hartford and assaulted her for hours until the police were called, stopped the assault, and took the woman's confession.
The woman had a crazed aspect as she was arraigned in court. She jerked her head back and forth and her eyes darted wildly. Moronically, a judge told her that if she posted bail she should stay away from her mother - which sounded like one of the "protective orders" Connecticut's courts give to women in lieu of anything actually helpful against their stalkers, like a speedy trial, police protection, or a gun.
For the time being, presumably, the woman will be the problem of the Correction Department. Meanwhile the closest policy responses from state government seem to be a plan to have the Department of Children and Families study how to improve access to treatment for the ever-growing number of disturbed children and a plan to spend $250,000 on a publicity campaign to persuade people not to call the mentally ill "crazy," "psychotic," or even just "insane."
Of course it remains too much to ask DCF to ponder how public policy might address the cause of the problem of disturbed children, to ascertain what might slow down the child screw-up machine. Addressing causes risks putting the department out of business.
As for the publicity campaign, "Stop the Stigma," it means to increase compassion for the mentally ill and reduce the discouragement for them to seek treatment. But the West Hartford case and other recent cases of catastrophic mental illness in Connecticut, some involving murder and even mass murder that followed plenty of professional intervention, raise simple questions: What treatment? Where did the mental health hospitals go? And will any agency investigate and report on the West Hartford case?
If "treatment" for mental illness is only euphemism and public relations, plain language may be society's last line of defense.
Keep pardons open
Should the public be able to evaluate the process by which the state Board of Pardons and Paroles grants pardons and thereby erases the criminal records of applicants?
A social work group doesn't think so and is sponsoring legislation to exclude pardon applications from Connecticut's freedom-of-information law. The group notes that people with criminal records may have trouble getting jobs when employers have access to pardon records, which often contain damaging information.
But of course employers become responsible for the people they hire, and they are less responsible when they hire without regard to criminal history. For example, if that social work group has its way, schools may not be allowed to know if job applicants have been convicted of violent crime, and banks prevented from knowing that potential tellers have embezzled. The dangers of secrecy here are endless.
The power to pardon and to erase criminal records is profound; it should be reserved for special cases, not exercised just so people can conceal their past from employers. Being susceptible to political abuse as well, the pardon power should remain subject to scrutiny just as people should remain responsible for their past.