Rules on Committing Dangerous Mentally Ill “Tragically Inadequate”


Forty years ago, a legal standard for mental health commitment emerged from a Milwaukee lawsuit to become the law of the land. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in a detailed examination of the history and evolution of the standard, concludes that “it has proved to be tragically inadequate.”

Only about 40,000 of the 4 million people in the U.S. with severe mental illness are dangerous–1 percent. Even then, the violence is usually minor – a punch or a shove, said Jeffrey Swanson, a Duke University professor who has studied the correlation between mental illness and violence for more than 20 years. People with mental illness are 13 times more likely to be a victim of a crime than the perpetrator. The inability to identify who is dangerous and the barriers to getting them care are “among the more wrenching failures of our time.”

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