Gov. Christine Gregoire and Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Susan Dreyfus indicated Tuesday they would favor legislation aimed at diverting the criminally insane away from state mental hospitals and into prisons. Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, proposed a bill during the 2009 legislative session which would do just that.
“I’m very pleased to hear that my ‘Guilty but Mentally Ill’ bill could get the benefit of such staunch advocates this next time around,” Carrell said. “Though it was supported by members of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections, it was never brought to a vote of the full Senate or House. I hope the support of the governor and Secretary Dreyfus will be enough to warrant my bill being passed by both houses of the Legislature this session and made law.”
Carrell’s bill, Senate Bill 5253, would create a new category of “guilty but mentally ill” for people charged with a crime. When someone who commits a crime is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he or she is usually sent to either Eastern or Western State Hospital. Carrell’s bill would put a person found guilty but mentally ill under the control of the Department of Corrections, for housing in one of the two state mental hospitals until the offender’s mental condition is stabilized; then the offender would be transferred to state prison to continue his or her treatment.
Carrell noted this would not replace the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea but create another level between that and “guilty,” something the governor has indicated may be needed.
“It tees up the major issue about whether we should allow in this state, not guilty by reason of insanity as a plea, or whether we should have a plea that is guilty by reason of insanity. So once you’re stabilized in a mental health institution, then you serve your time in a criminal justice system,” Gregoire said Tuesday to members of the media. “We’re increasingly putting people from our criminal justice system into those state mental health hospitals…are they equipped for that? Are they ready to be, at times, more like a correctional or jail facility? I don’t think so.”
Secretary Dreyfus has also noted the state Legislature may be asked to change the law so criminals who are judged to be insane would be moved to prison if they are deemed cured. Carrell says he plans on introducing a more comprehensive version of his Guilty but Mentally Ill bill in January, and hopes in light of the recent field-trip escape and recapture of a man labeled “insane killer” by the media that the bill will be met with overwhelming bipartisan support.
“These kinds of individuals aren’t so mentally ill that they don’t know what they’re doing,” Carrell said. “The individual in the eastern Washington incident is certainly mentally ill, but he knew he murdered someone and thus tried to cover up the crime. Those are not the actions of someone who is unaware of what they’re doing.
“My bill would hold these offenders accountable for their actions, and because DOC would supervise the offenders if and when they get out of prison, it would ensure they continue taking their medication once released,” Carrell said. “Without this new category, if a person who committed a heinous crime but was found not guilty by reason of insanity were ever released back into the public, he or she would have no criminal record since the finding was not guilty. There’s just too much liability and too much potential risk for the general public.
“And this isn’t an isolated incident either,” Carrell continued. “Just a few weeks ago, a patient at Western State Hospital’s criminal forensics ward was buzzed out the front door by hospital staff. Fortunately that individual was recaptured as well, but it’s indicative of the need to not only tighten up security policies at state mental hospitals, but reexamine the way the system as a whole treats criminals who are also mentally ill.”