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Care and Support for the Mentally Ill

June 03, 2002

Re "Shield the Sick, and Society," editorial, May 28: Congratulations to The Times for supporting AB 1321. As the former supervising judge of the Mental Health Department of the Superior Court and as a judge who heard countless criminal matters involving untreated persons with severe mental illness, I applaud The Times for its support of AB 1421.

As your editorial noted, various civil liberties proponents and others have taken an ideological approach that blinds itself to the reality that persons with untreated, persistent mental illness are themselves the victims of our current laws: They wander the streets hungry, homeless and without hope, cycle through our hospitals and are released with no after-care or plan to meet their human needs--and wind up in our prisons and jails not because they are criminals but because there simply is no place for them in our society.

It is well known that the L.A. County Jail and our prison system are the largest mental institutions in the world. In our jails and prisons, other prisoners and even staff victimize those with persistent, severe mental disorders. When discharged, they are generally far sicker than when they entered custody. And the cost of their incarceration is astronomically greater than would be the cost of community-based, effective treatment. AB 1421 would undoubtedly provide a humane, cost-effective alternative to our present inhumane and wasteful system. It behooves all of us as concerned citizens to support this bill.

Judge Harold E. Shabo (Ret.)

Los Angeles

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I was dismayed to read your editorial in favor of legislation to empower state-enforced psychiatric drugging. There is no scientific evidence to establish that psychiatric drugs are "shielding" society.

On the contrary, today there is a swelling controversy surrounding the potential for violence and suicide associated with many of the latest psychiatric drugs. A reluctance to consume such drugs could hardly be deemed irrational, let alone criminal, and yet, under AB 1421, that is exactly what would happen. For no other "crime" than refusing to be subjected to these unpredictable, mind-altering substances, virtually anyone could be incarcerated in a mental ward.

Terry Johnston

Los Angeles

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