Jared Lee Loughner and Arizona's Civil Commitment Laws

What Women Really Think
Jan. 11 2011 4:02 PM

Jared Lee Loughner and Arizona's Civil Commitment Laws

Thank you, Meredith, for explaining Arizona's law for requesting a mental health evaluation for someone like Jared Loughner. I would not actually call the law "liberal," though, and I would also point out that ithere is a downside to mass self-policing of the sort you call for. Absolutely, in retrospect, I wish that someone, anyone had stopped Loughner. But the power to take someone to court for refusing treatment as a mentally ill person-the next step after requesting an evaluation, in some states-is a lot of power and it can be abused. I am not sure we want friends and neighbors using this on each other willy-nilly. Can you imagine a group of college students who don't like someone in their dorm asking the police to civilly commit her for, oh, say three days? Often it's hard to know whether a person who someone else says is scary and crazy actually is. Maybe the writing was indelibly on the wall about Jared Loughner, but that doesn't make that the rule.

To me, the harder question about Loughner is one Emily Y. and I have been discussing offline: What power should the people closest to Loughner-his parents-have, and what could they have done, given what they knew? Kate, I take your caution against blaming to heart. Actually, I would like to retire the world "blame" from the converation for at least a few weeks, if not forever, because it's so hard to really understand a story like this one, much less apportion blame. In that spirit, here's one thread of what we know so far. Last year, after Loughner repeatedly disrupted class and caused trouble in the library, and posted an accusatory vidoe aimed at his school on YouTube, Pima Community College called him in and told him he couldn't come back until he'd had that mental health eval and could show that he wasn't a danger to himself or others. (For more on that standard, here is Arizona's civil commitment statute .) According to the NYT , Lougher's parents met with the college, too.  And then-what? We don't know if he saw a psychiatrist or got any treatment. It seems crystal clear in hindsight that he should have. As Emily Y. says , and also David Brooks today , untreated mental illness is a risk factor for violence. So here is one proscription that to me is also crystal clear: Make it easier for mentally ill people to access psych services. This is actually something the health care reform bill addresses, with the staunch support of Gabrielle Giffords in Congress.


What about Arizona's laws, which make it relatively easy to civilly commit a mentally ill person who refuses treatment? This is the harder part: It's not about giving someone the chance to get help. It's about forcing him to take it. You could argue that Loughner's case shows that laws like this don't work, because they failed to prevent his rampage, and that what we really need is more money to make psych services better and more enticing. Or you could argue that we need to make it even easier to put people like him away. This is is a very hard balance to strike. I would only caution that in moments like this, we often err on the side of the punitive.

Emily Bazelon was a Slate senior editor from 2005 to 2014. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

The U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS in Syria Will Probably Benefit America’s Other Enemies

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 23 2014 10:55 AM This Isn’t the Syria Intervention Anyone Wanted
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google CEO: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.