Vol. 10, No. 1, 2004 Page 6


To the Editor:

Regarding the Crime Times editorial in Volume 9, Number 4, 2003, on the debate over John Hinckley's unsupervised home visits:

I agree that acts committed by individuals having mental health problems are supposed to be viewed in an entirely different light than those same acts committed by a so-called rational being. However, the statement in the last paragraph [re] "do we deserve" to call ourselves an enlightened society, when we treat the victims of undiagnosed and untreated brain diseases as though they are to blame for their illness, is misleading.

It is my opinion that we have showed ourselves as an "enlightened society" by recognizing John Hinckley had a mental illness following the shooting of President Reagan and Mr. Brady. Hinckley has not been in a prison but in a treatment facility which is another part of an "enlightened society."

The question of whether he should or should not be allowed unsupervised leave has nothing to do with Hinckley "deserving" such treatment. The real question is whether those treating Hinckley or recommending such leave can be trusted to know enough about human beings and their mental illness problems to make a final decision. It isn't about Hinckley; it's about those who think they know best.

Personally, I think the psychologists are wrong in their recommendation. I have supervised a Maximum Security Mental Health Treatment Center in a prison setting for more than five years and still do not absolutely trust without question a psychiatrist's or a psychologist's recommendation.

Ronald L. Lytle, Warden
Central New Mexico
Correctional Facility


Editor's note: Your point is very well taken. It was certainly not our intent to minimize the fact that there is grave doubt among experts as to whether Mr. Hinckley can safely be left unsupervised in open society, or to suggest that Mr. Hinckley bears no responsibility for his crime.

On the contrary, both Mr. Hinckley and the physicians in charge of him bear the heavy responsibility of recognizing that he may be a terrible threat to society, and of ensuring that this threat is eliminated. If there is the least doubt among his physicians about the safety of allowing him unsupervised visits, his request for these visits should be flatly denied.

That said, our point still stands. We blame mentally ill criminals for acts committed under the influence of disoriented or psychotic brains, but the blame for such crimes can just as logically be laid at the doorstep of a society that fails to identify and help millions of children and adults with brain dysfunction. We will deserve to be called "enlightened" when we recognize that much societal tragedy stems not from evil, but from damaged or poisoned brains— and when we invest as much in preventing or treating brain dysfunction as we invest in the very necessary act of hospitalizing or incarcerating dangerous criminals.

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