Observations and graphs of numbers institutionalized are discussed by Bernard Harcourt guestblogging at Volokh. His conclusion:
What is also clear is that Seung-Hui Cho probably would have been institutionalized in the 1940s or 50s and, as a result, the Virginia Tech tragedy may not have happened. According to the New York Times, the director of the campus counseling services at Virginia Tech said of Cho: “The mental health professionals were there to assess his safety, not particularly the safety of others.” It’s unlikely we would have taken that attitude fifty years ago.
But the problem is, we would also be institutionalizing another huge swath of humanity — and it’s simply not clear how many of those other lives we would be irreparably harming in the process.
Volokh introduces Harcourt, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology at the University of Chicago. His guest blogging posts will chiefly focus on a new paper “that looks at the massive shift in institutionalization from mental hospitals to prisons during the 20th century, a topic that’s particularly timely in light of the Virginia Tech incident.”
His findings give substance to some of the observations on this blog and agree in part with Kellerman’s editorial, linked to earlier. His interest, however, is less with the links to homelessness than to incarceration. Certainly this is not an area full of easy answers. The chronic nature of these problems make solutions – at least as our understanding of these illnesses now stands – always temporary; the result can be the false hope that a temporary solution is a long-term one.