Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The safety and well being of a community is normally something we only think about when something goes to terribly wrong. Cincinnati just went through some introspection over the murder of a young 13 year old girl. The suspect has a long history of sexual assault and violence. He was living in a halfway house until violent behavior caused him to be kicked out of the house. He then was out roaming when he came across his victim.

I’m not using names here because my intent is not to focus on the crime but rather on how we arrived at this point. The first demands were to close the halfway house, as though closing it would somehow or make the community safer and not simply increase the homeless problem. A halfway house is not a jail or prison, it is a place to help people cope with functioning in the community.

The next demand was to prevent people with violent histories from being released to halfway houses. Prisons and jails are already overcrowded, releasing those inmates who can function in society reduces the strain on the prison system.

As late as today, the news had a story about city council wanting to the close the halfway house that the suspected murder was from. Politically expedient I supposed but such a draconian measure gets to the heart of the problem.

Prisons and halfway houses are crowded with people who have mental health issues. These people often have no support system (be it family, friends or community) to help them cope with their problems. They end up homeless and lacking the proper medical attention, act out in violent ways. Without any other alternatives, these people end up in prisons and jails. Those who are able to show signs of coping (are simply non-violent enough) get released to halfway houses or even just back out on the street. The result can be exactly what happened to a 13 year old girl.

The solution isn’t to close halfway houses or increase our overcrowded prison system. The answer is to get these people help BEFORE they are forced to act out. Mental health institutions fell out of favor over arcane practices, however with their demise came a bigger problem…what to do with the thousands of people in our communities who suffer from mental health problems?

The argument of course is where is the funding going to come from to create these mental health institutions? Part of the solution is to help the community to develop alternatives to incarceration and halfway houses. If people can intervention early enough, some can avoid becoming part of the corrections system. Those who do commit crimes need to be referred to mental health systems instead of being locked up with other criminals.

Why invest in such a difficult an potentially costly endeavor? Creating a viable alternative to incarcerating people with mental health issues could lead to a much safer community. I don’t know if the suspected murderer could have been saved through intervention. What I do know is our present system isn’t working.

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