Before James A. Williams was charged with stabbing a young Seattle woman to death, he stood before a court, accused of assaulting a different stranger, and said, “I didn’t even ask to be born. If I had my way I would never have been born, but unfortunately, I was.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says it is a wish echoed by a mental health system that failed to predict the emergence of a class of violent, mentally ill offenders, such as Williams, 48. That the Seattle woman’s death occurred in King County, which offers a comprehensive and progressive system for dealing with mentally ill parolees, has the public and the mental health community asking what went wrong.
Since April 2000, 512 Washington inmates have been designated as dangerous and mentally ill, the designation Williams received when he got out of prison in 2006 for a bus stop shooting. Of those, 466 are living in the community. Those who volunteer to enroll in a special supervision program receive extra help with housing and mental health care in addition to being closely monitored by the Department of Corrections. About half of the “dangerous mentally ill” either can’t or don’t participate. Only 222 actually receive services through the program — some because they live in areas of the state where no mental health counselors will take such patients on, or where no housing will accept them. Others simply reject the help. The Post-Intelligencer traces Williams through his many years of struggles. The day his latest victim was was killed, he checked in with his community corrections officer, who noted he was “barely holding it together.”