Green, a nurse who treats mentally ill patients and has dealt with her own depression, said people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators but said she isnt one to turn down an opportunity to address the need.
Sadly, tragedies like Sandy Hook and all the gun shootings weve had, and tragedies weve had here, are sort of whats giving people the political will to make things happen, Green said.
Lawmakers could move to make it easier to commit people like Jonathan Meline, who, months after a release from Western State, was sent back there on charges of killing his father as he slept in their Tacoma home.
His case presents special circumstances because Meline, like several others in recent cases being cited in the Legislature, had been charged with crimes before but was found incompetent to stand trial.
The standards for incompetency are different from those used to commit patients. Prosecutors have proposed tying the two areas together for situations when mental illness forces them to drop a violent felony charge. Under their proposal, being shepherded by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, a court would have a separate, lower standard for committing someone whose mental illness makes similar criminal acts likely.
The proposal, in the form of House Bill 1114, is scheduled for its first vote Tuesday in a House committee.
Prosecutors say a relatively small number of offenders would be affected. Still, mental-health advocates say some money would be needed to expand beds to meet the new need. The prosecutors state association agrees, said its executive leader, Tom McBride although he argues that without the law, released patients who end up back in the legal system are costly in other ways.
Were spending a lot of money on them now, he said.
Another solution would provide for certain mentally ill patients who are now being considered incompetent to stand trial to be declared guilty and mentally ill and sentenced to prison, while also receiving treatment. Its proposed by Sen. Mike Carrell, a Lakewood Republican and chairman of the Human Services committee. He says it would save money by housing offenders in prisons instead of special secure and costly wards at state hospitals.
Civil-liberties advocates and defense lawyers oppose both, saying they would deny patients due process.
Theyre looking for a simplistic answer to a complex problem, and thats the difficulty here. Everybody wants the silver bullet and there isnt one here, said Bob Cooper, a lobbyist for defense attorneys.
Carrell also wants to convene a task force to rethink the whole mental-health system. He said money is only part of the problem.
If were spending $180,000 a year for the average person at Western State Hospital, Carrell said, its pretty hard to say were not spending a lot of money on it.