Escapes Frequent For Colorado Violent Mental Cases

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Nearly 50 men and women held at Colorado’s psychiatric hospital for murder and other violent acts have escaped since 1990, a Denver Post investigation has found. One man, committed in 1987 after robbing a convenience store, made his fifth escape from the facility in 1998. Soon after, he strangled Wanda Pitts, 18, after kidnapping her in Texas. “It baffles me,” one police chief told the Post. “As many times as he escaped, it seems like they should have put him in a more secure location.”

Seven patients committed violent acts after they fled the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. One killed a motel clerk. Another cracked the skulls of his brother and sister-in-law with a sledgehammer, nearly killing them. Two others beat up an off-duty police officer and stole his car. A fifth sexually assaulted a store clerk and tried to break her neck. Another was sent back to the hospital after attacking an elderly woman. Another fatally shot himself in the head with a stolen gun.

Security is limited. There is a maximum-security building, but critics say many patients are too swiftly moved to lower-security wards and given privileges after being inaccurately evaluated.

Hospital officials note that the number of escapes has dropped sharply in recent years. But violent acts by escapees point to a broader security problem. Harold Bursztajn of the Program in Psychiatry & the Law at Harvard Medical School, said the violent acts may indicate the hospital awards too much freedom to patients not prepared for it. “They’re put in settings where they are bound to fail,” Bursztajn said.


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