What do you do about a guy like Cho (background here and here)? Everyone knew he was nuts. He scared people. And yet, no laws, no standards existed to do the sensible thing: lock the guy up until he recovered enough mental function so as not harm the public. Eugene Methvin recommends following the example of Maryland before hippies intervened and essentially neutered the law, which was eventually discarded:
A young lawyer named Jerome Robinson was in the courtroom the day Duker was sentenced. A few years later Robinson was in the Maryland legislature. He headed a "blue ribbon" study commission embracing the best legal and psychiatric minds of the time. They produced the 1951 "defective delinquent" law creating a hybrid prison and mental hospital, the Patuxent Institution, which opened its doors in 1955. It was a sound solution to the terrible problem posed by explosive criminals like Duker and James. The nation's best psychiatric authorities agreed such psychopaths comprise an unusual category of compulsive criminals who, while knowing the difference between right and wrong and hence legally "sane," nevertheless lack the normal moral restraints on rage impulses.The system ended up having superlative results both for the criminal and for society.
The law's authors made their priorities clear: 1. Protect the public. 2. Provide treatment within the limits of current psychiatric knowledge. 3. Research to advance the science. They wanted it made difficult to get into Patuxent, and then difficult to get out. Fourteen elaborate safeguards surrounded a convicted criminal before he could be committed to Patuxent -- many more than in other state civil proceedings permitting potentially lifetime civil commitment for insanity that federal courts had frequently upheld against constitutional attacks. Only convicted criminals were candidates for admission. A candidate was entitled to have psychiatrists of his own choice examine him and testify in his behalf, at state expense. And the ultimate question was left not to psychiatrists but to a citizen-jury: did this convicted criminal, "by the demonstration of persistent, aggravated antisocial or criminal behavior... evidence a propensity toward criminal activity... so as to clearly demonstrate an actual danger to society?"
Currently, criminals in the making must do one huge dastardly deed, but then it's too late. Society could be save mayhem and murder if the criminal was housed before he hurt. You're worried about slippery slopes. I am, too. While having dinner with a psychiatrist friend, though, I asked him whether the psychopaths, schizophrenics or manic-depressives he treats ever recover. He said that in all his 25 years of practicing (always in mental hospitals with the most dangerous people) and being Chief Physician in a psych hospital, he could count on one hand the number of people who recovered, and he wondered if they were diagnosed correctly in the first place. The others got worse with time. He explained that the law doesn't allow for dealing long-term with people so the institutions become a revolving door. He felt that it was a bad thing when the mentally ill got expelled from the hospitals.
Many of those released are street people. They may not harm others, but they're easy prey themselves. And then there are many criminals free to do their evil bidding because there's no place for them until they blow.
Perhaps it's time to re-examine the notion of a long-term psychiatric solution. There might not be a lot of psychological healing going on, but there'd be less societal problems.