Category Archives: Mental illness and substance abuse

Mentally Ill in Jails, Part 1–The Scope of the Problem

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Note:   This was not intended to be a long post, but, during its development, it grew like Topsy.  Being painfully aware of my tendency to be wordy and the limitations of a blog regarding long essays, I have broken the post into three parts or installments.  The first examines the extent of the problem; the second looks at what the state and local and regional jails are doing about it, and the third discusses recently-enacted legislation that represents a positive step forward.)

In meeting after meeting over the previous years, the most common lament of sheriffs has been the number of mentally ill people in their jails.  They point out that their facilities were not designed to house the mentally ill, their officers have not been trained to deal with the mentally ill, and they have not been adequately funded to provide treatment to these inmates.  In short, the mentally ill do not belong in jails.

The numbers bear out the sheriffs’ concerns.  In June, 2018 (the latest date for which data is available), there were at least 7,852 people known or suspected to be mentally ill housed in the Commonwealth’s local and regional jails.  That was almost 20 percent of the total number of inmates housed in jails that month.  Of the total number of female inmates (6,946), more than a third (2,395) were deemed mentally ill.  More than 16 percent of the male inmates were reported as mentally ill. Continue reading

Virginia’s Descent into Madness — Literal Madness

by James A. Bacon

Do you ever get the sense that society is on the brink of a total mental breakdown? I do, and never more so than when I read the news. Indeed, after reviewing today’s news feed, I’m tempted to think that Virginia may be further down the path to mass psychosis than other states. Consider…

So many people are suffering from mental health issues in Prince William County that the county’s “co-responder” program that pairs mental health specialists with police officers has been “overwhelmed with police calls, reports the Prince William Times. The police department received 272 mental health calls during January, but “co-responder” units were dispatched in only 76. Now Prince William County Executive Chris Martino wants to double the size of the program. And even that, he concedes, will not be enough.

Meanwhile, the Fairfax County school district wants to increase spending on mental health to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 school shutdowns, reports The Washington Post. Fairfax schools hope to hire a “trauma-informed social emotional learning specialist” who will help children “process the lingering damage of the pandemic.” The school district’s budget, says one school board member, reflects priorities that include “emotional supports for our students and our staff.”

Then there is the General Assembly, truly a case of lunatics running the asylum. Continue reading

Biting the Hand

Princess Blanding
Photo credit: Joe Mahoney, Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Earlier this week, the governor had a ceremonial signing for the Marcus David Peters bill. This is the legislation that establishes a system to alert authorities of someone in a mental health crisis in order that mental health professionals can respond rather than just police. It is named after a young Richmond man who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot and killed while attacking a policeman.

At the signing ceremony was Princess Blanding, Peters’ sister. She had been the most active and vocal supporter and advocate for such legislation. If you thought she expressed her gratitude to the Governor and the legislature for enacting the far-reaching legislation, you would be wrong.

In her remarks at the ceremony, addressing the Governor and legislators associated with the bill, she said, “Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for doing exactly what this racist, corrupt, and broken, I also add, system expected you to do: make the Marcus Alert bill a watered down, ineffective bill that will continue to ensure that having a mental health crisis results in a death sentence.”  (The video of her remarks is here.) Continue reading

How Childhood Traumas Are Driving Special-Needs Funding

Spending on private day schools has driven the increase in CSA spending over the past ten years. Graph source: JLARC

by James A. Bacon

More than 17,000 Virginia school children were categorized by the Virginia Department of Education as being disabled by autism or severe emotional issues in the 2018-19 school year. If these students get too unruly for schools to handle, they often wind up getting transferred to private special-education day schools.

The cost of providing these special services, paid under the state’s Children’s Services Act (CSA), has more than doubled since Fiscal Year 2010 to $186 million, according to a new report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). Spending increases have averaged about 14% per year since FY 2010.

Tuition at these private schools range from $22,000 to $97,000 per child, consistent with the cost of providing low student-to-staff ratios. Charges per child have risen about 3% annually, a bit more than the inflation rate. The big cost driver has been the 50% increase in enrollment over the decade. Continue reading

Would a Mobile Crisis Team Have Saved Marcus-David Peters?

Image of Marcus-David Peters projected onto the Lee Monument.

by James A. Bacon

Marcus-David Peters, fatally shot in 2018 by a Richmond police officer while in the midst of a mental health crisis, has become an icon for criminal justice reform in Virginia. Protesters occupying the area around the Lee statue on Monument Avenue erected a sign (since removed) designating Lee Circle as Marcus-David Peters Circle. Lawmakers named the “Marcus-David Alert” bill after him, requiring all police departments by 2026 to dispatch mental health professionals to emergency situations involving people in mental distress.

The story of how Peters, an unarmed black man, met his demise is a tragic one, and tales like it are all too common. Many police-civilian encounters ending in violence involve people suffering from mental breakdowns. It makes intuitive sense to use trained mental-health professionals to talk them down from the ledge, so to speak, rather than relying on police officers trained primarily in the use of force.

But a close look at how the Peters tragedy unfolded raises questions. Given the rapidity with which events unfolded, would a “mobile crisis team” have made a difference? Would putting mental health professionals into the front line of law enforcement have put their lives in danger? Continue reading

Hey, What Happened to All the School Shootings?

by James A. Bacon

Anyone notice how we don’t hear about school shootings anymore? Ever since the nation became fixated on the COVID-19 epidemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, school shootings have dropped out of the headlines.

According to an ongoing list compiled by Wikipedia, there have been eight school shootings (four in Texas, two in California, and one each in Florida and Illinois) so far this year. Six occurred before Feb. 4. Since then, only two school or college shootings been reported. In 2019, there had been 40 shootings by this time of year. What’s going on?

Continue reading

Police and People in a Mental Health Crisis

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported many of the Democrats’ criminal justice reform bills at its meeting last week. I will discuss the most important ones, in some depth, in installments, rather than all at once. This first installment is on the interaction between police and mentally ill folks.

For many years, police officials and sheriffs have warned of the problems posed by mentally ill persons committing crimes, often petty ones, as well as by those having a crisis and acting more violently. This problem has been increasing over the years. (The reasons for this increase are beyond the scope of this post as well as beyond the scope of the knowledge and expertise of the author.) Law-enforcement officials have said publicly, repeatedly and correctly, that their officers have not been trained to deal appropriately with these folks. Continue reading

Do Summer Camps Warrant Bail-out Funds?

Camp Mount Shenandoah: less screen time, more time outdoors

by James A. Bacon

A philosophical question to ponder: If the Commonwealth of Virginia shuts down an entire industry by executive order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, what moral obligation does it have to help the businesses survive the epidemic?

Literally no industry in Virginia has been more impacted by the emergency shutdown than overnight summer camps. Summer camps do not comprise a particularly big industry — one guesstimate is that 75 establishments generate in the realm of $100 million a year — so they cannot be said be be economically “essential.” But they are essential, camp advocates say, for the mental health of thousands of Virginia kids, who need physical activity and social interaction.

Many industries have been slammed by the emergency shutdown. However, none but the summer camps have been entirely shuttered for all three phases. Camps generate 90% or more of total revenue from seven to 12 weeks during the summer, and if they are forced to close during that period, there is no way to make up for lost revenue. Continue reading

A Better Alternative to Police Force

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have been thinking a lot about a Washington Post article and accompanying police body camera footage.

In that footage, a black man is pacing around and around in the middle of a street talking loudly, mostly incoherently. He is not being confrontational, but he is not cooperating, either. Several white Fairfax County police officers and at least one EMT are trying to find out what help he needs and trying to coax him into the back of an ambulance. Finally, one officer, just arriving on the scene, tases the man and brings him down. After some struggling and yelling, plus a couple of more tasings, the man is handcuffed and lying on his side in the street. The upshot: The man is taken to a hospital, treated, and released; the county police chief expresses outrage at the way the situation was handled; and the officer is charged with three counts of assault and battery. Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

Northam’s Indefensible Philosophical Premise

by James A. Bacon

Virginia tax revenue fell $700 million in April compared to the same month a year ago, a 26.2% drop. That decline, of course, reflects the nose dive in the economy that generates tax revenues. In response to this news, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Governor Ralph Northam made a telling comment yesterday that sums up his approach to the COVID-19 epidemic:

As anticipated, this is the first monthly revenue report to reflect the significant negative impacts of COVID-19 on the health of our commonwealth’s finances. We are facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, and we must combat this virus before we can begin to repair our economy. My top priorities continue to be protecting the health and safety of all Virginians.

Northam is hardly alone in holding these sentiments. They are shared by most Democratic elected officials, a few Republicans, almost the entirely of the news media, and much of the public. The belief that “we must combat this virus before we can begin to repair our economy” is driving public policy in Virginia and many other states.

Thank you, Governor, for stating the philosophical principle at stake so plainly.

There are so many flaws in this reasoning, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I shall address the most obvious. Continue reading

And Now For Something Completely Different

By Peter Galuszka

Dear Baconauts,

As you know, people like me have been described by a B.R.  commenter as those who submit “scorch and burn, mock and smear writings encased in scornful, supercilious, opinionated, and shallow rhetoric.”

I freely admit this and am damned proud of it.

But instead of dishing out the usual sarcastic bile, I have another idea today. I don’t know about you, but with me self-quaranting as much as possible, I am running out of things to read or watch. I still have for-pay work but who knows how much that might last? So, why don’t we exchange ideas of new stuff to occupy our minds with. Here’s a list of recommended movies, TV series and books:

  • On Netflix, I am a huge fan of the German TV series “Bablyon Berlin,” which imagines a very dark, brooding German capital after the Great War and before Hitler. The chief characters are Georeon Rath, a shattered war veteran and police detective who gets into the seamy side of life. His heart throb is Charlotte Ritter, an office worker and part-time prostitute. The series has everything, shady characters, mysterious train shipments from the Soviet Union, fascists, communists, early porn studios. The acting, story line and photography are excellent. It’s like a grown up version of “Cabaret.”

Continue reading

Earmarks are Back

The capital projects section of the budget bill is often overlooked by the media. That has been especially the case this year, with all the major initiatives brought forth by the Democrats.

I am working on one or more submissions dealing with capital development, but, in the meantime, there is one item that deserves a post of its own. Deep in the back of budget bill (HB 30), in Item C-72, there lurks a proposal of dubious constitutionality involving a lot of money.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) is a well-regarded, private nonprofit, free-standing children’s hospital in Norfolk. The budget bill directs that $33.4 million in tax-supported bond proceeds be provided for the construction of a 60-bed mental health hospital at CHKD. Continue reading

Speaking of Mental Health–Virginia has a Crisis

The Commonwealth is experiencing a crisis in its mental health system.  The situation is the result of some positive initiatives of the General Assembly, coupled with the legislature’s reluctance to provide the funding needed to deal with the results of those initiatives.

The crisis is an acute shortage of mental health treatment beds. Around the first of this month, the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) warned “there will be times over the July 4th holiday weekend when there will not be any open staffed beds at any of the state hospitals.”   And the July 4 weekend was not an aberration. The state’s adult mental health hospitals operated at 98 to 100 percent capacity in May and June. One day this month, the two hospitals that treat elderly patients had more patients than beds.

The state has reduced its mental health bed capacity in recent years, going from 1,571 beds in June 2010 to 1,491 beds in FY 2020, a reduction of five percent.

During that period of decreasing bed capacity, the General Assembly took two actions that have resulted in a significant increase in mental health admissions. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Keeping the Political Class on its Toes

Cranky strikes again. John Butcher does another deep dive into Richmond Public School statistics, comparing the capital city’s school system with the schools in peer cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News. Richmond spends $2,887 more per student than the state average, and it spends $1,659 more on instructional expenses. Yet somehow, the district supports fewer instructional positions per 100 students and pays teachers and principals less. And, as Butcher has amply demonstrated before, disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students in Richmond under-perform their disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged peers in other urban-core localities by wide margins.

How about the indignity of attending lousy schools? But never fear, Richmond school administrators are au current with the latest in politically correct virtue signaling. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond schools started requiring graduating students to wear gender-neutral gaps and gowns this year, ending a decades-long practice of having separate colors for men and women. Explained Superintendent Jason Kamras: “We want to make sure out transgender and nonbinary students don’t have to suffer the indignity of being forced to express their gender in a manner contrary to their identity.”

Big subsidies for big data. Virginia is home to 159 data centers that benefited from $417.5 million in sales-and-use tax exemptions from mid-2010 through mid-2017, according to estimates from a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report. JLARC deems the state subsidies to have been “relatively effective” and generate “moderate economic benefits.” It is reasonable for the state to continue the exemption, concluded JLARC. However, the tax break does not appear to have stimulated growth in distressed areas. Continue reading