By Thomas Gardner
Journalism Guild Writer
Early access to psychiatric care for people who are mentally ill may result in fewer violent incidents and hospitalizations, reports public television station KQED.
When the opportunity to treat beginning-stage mental health disorder is missed, then a sort of “snowball” dynamic can be set in motion, where violence and then more violence often is the result, according to Scott Shafer’s story for The Crime Report.
“At California’s five state psychiatric hospitals, patients are mostly criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial,” said Shafer.
Many families of patients at the psychiatric hospitals feel that their loved ones are now finally getting the kind of treatment that they should have gotten before the tragedy happened that sent them there, Shafer reports.
“Advocates for the mentally ill say we need to make more treatment available in the community whenever possible – rather than in locked state hospitals like Napa,” Shafer said.
Recent high school graduate Shawn Brackin had become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. In what his family says was an attempt at “suicide by cop,” he walked into a local police station in 1995 in possession of a handgun, reported Shafer.
“He was wanting to die,” says Frank Brackin, Shawn’s father, who explained that his son had struggled since the age of 6, after having suffered a severe head injury as a result of being struck by a car, the report adds.
On that tragic day at the police station, Shawn was shot but survived; however, an officer was shot and killed accidentally by a fellow cop, the story noted.
“We need to make more treatment available in the community whenever possible”
The sentencing court recognized Shawn’s mental illness, and as part of a plea deal agreement, he was found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Shawn has now been a patient at Napa State Psychiatric Hospital for nearly 20 years, Shafer reports.
Yet, as if trapped in a repetitive cycle, violence continues as part of his life. Shawn has suffered numerous assaults by other patients over the years while at Napa and now appears to have severe brain damage, said Shafer.
His parents have filed a lawsuit against the Napa hospital alleging negligence for not keeping their son safe, the report notes.
Violence remains an ongoing problem at the state psychiatric facilities, Shafer says. “Five years ago…a staff member (psychiatric technician Diana Gross) was murdered by a patient at Napa State Hospital.”
In response, many changes have been made, most of which are designed to protect staff. The hospital is now allowed to isolate the most dangerous patients, the report states.
Although most are minor, Napa has documented 1,800 assaults within the last year, according to the report.
“We have made tremendous progress in safety improvements and in mitigating violence at the hospital,” Napa Executive Director Dolly Matteucci told Shafer.
The mother of one Napa patient, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity after having killed a person in the Berkeley Hills, said her son is slowly getting better, adding, “It was only because of the sustained treatment we had through Napa,” Shafer reported.
“Despite the complaints and problems at California’s state mental hospitals, there’s a long waiting list to get into them,” Shafer notes.