Wednesday’s Children and the Law Blog

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The Truth About Mental Health and Violence, Indy Star

Rates of homicide and other violent deaths in the United States dramatically exceed those of any other industrialized, high-income nation. Diagnosable mental health conditions are not the cause of violence in the United States, but oftentimes the result of it. The trauma that results from violence may in fact be a significant precursor to the development of many mental and substance use conditions.

Persons with severe mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence — as they can be easy prey to violence. Some live a marginalized existence as a result of mental illness and subsequent loss of income and assets, and may become targets for theft, mugging and rape. Incarceration of large numbers of people with mental and substance-use conditions in county jails and correction facilities may subject them to isolation or, worse, violent victimization . . .

People with mental health conditions alone are no more likely to be violent than other people. A 2009 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that mental illness alone is not an adequate basis for a prediction of dangerousness, as “the incidence of violence was higher for people with severe mental illness, but only significantly so for those with co-occurring substance abuse and/or dependence. . . severe mental illness alone did not predict future violence; it was associated instead with historical (past violence, juvenile detention, physical abuse, parental arrest record), clinical (substance abuse, perceived threats), dispositional (age, sex, income), and contextual (recent divorce, unemployment, victimization) factors.”

. . . Included in ACA is the provision of mental health and substance abuse parity. If implemented properly, the ACA could provide the necessary services to those in need of behavioral health services in a way that is comparable to physical health services . . . this is important as substance abuse services are critical to those who have a co-occurring mental illness. Similarly, specialty services for children with trauma must be included. As the state begins implementation, we must insist on a robust package of behavioral health services for children and adults that includes a medication benefit that makes certain that everyone is able to obtain the medicine that is so critical to their recovery. Workforce development will be an issue that must be resolved as well, as the need for mental health and addiction professionals will greatly exceed their availability. Educational assistance for these professions might be indicated.

‘Phoenix’s Law’ would Double Penalties for Animal Cruelty, The Buffalo News

Phoenix, the 5 1/2-month-old Jack Russell terrier recovering from being intentionally set on fire Oct. 29 [by teens], hasn’t been forgotten.  Thursday, Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan . . . announced he will introduce “Phoenix’s Law” legislation, which would double maximum jail terms from two years to four, and fines from $5,000 to $10,000, for people convicted of aggravated cruelty to companion animals, a felony.

[New York] ranks 38th, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with Illinois having the toughest [animal protection] laws and Kentucky the weakest. New York animal protection laws fall under the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets, with the companion animal law on the books expressly excluding farm animals.

The proposed [NY] legislation also would require a juvenile convicted of animal abuse to have a psychiatric evaluation and treatment. “Animal cruelty is considered by many experts to be a leading indicator in the predisposition for future acts of violence. Often someone who abuses a vulnerable pet as a child grows up to abuse vulnerable adults and children. This law will help identify somebody with that predisposition, and assist in reducing the possibility of future acts of violence and abuse,” Ryan said.

Defense Rests in Case of Missing Florida Foster Child, The Seattle Times

The defense rested in the case of a South Floriday woman accused of killing her 4 year old foster child more than 10 years ago.  Lawyers for 67-year-old Geralyn Graham on Tuesday focused on attacking the credibility of three jailhouse informants who implicated Graham in the Rilya Wilson’s killing.

Also testifying for the defense were corrections officials who say star prosecution witness Robin Lunceford was given preferential treatment behind bars.  Lunceford also got a life prison sentence reduced to just 10 years in exchange for her testimony that Graham confessed.  Graham did not testify in her own defense but has insisted on her innocence. Rilya’s body has never been found.

Prosecutors now have the chance to put on a brief rebuttal case. Closing arguments are expected next Tuesday.


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