What to do with a Mentally Ill Person Charged with a Crime?

Published 04/14 2014 07:45PM

Updated 04/14 2014 08:39PM

        Dozens of people are displaced and posessions destroyed after an apartment fire that was allegedly started by a metally disabled woman.
        Many people are asking why Michelle Hersberger was allowed to have such independence when she claims voices in her head told her to light the fire.
        Beth Barchet of Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare says the movement to integrate the mentally ill into society instead of institutionalizing started in the 60's.
        "It happened because we realized that we weren't really treating folks effectively or probably as respectively as we could."
        Now patients are more commonly treated in group homes or independently by a company such as ResCare, which was treating Hershberger at the time of the fire.
        Barchet says nowadays it's much more difficult for someone to be admitted into a state hospital.
        "In order to go to a state hospital your rights are taken away and you have to be deemed a danger to yourself or someone else or gravely disabled."
        The argument could be made that if the accusations are true Hershberger fits the description.
        Barchet says due to a lack of funding, space, and new mental health treatment trends the mental health system has strayed away from state hospitals.
        "I think what people don't understand is that everyday there are thousands of people living in the community with mental health issue. Hearing voices, struggling with their symptoms and doing ok."
        Barchet says most mentally ill are not more at risk to commit crimes unless they quit taking medication or abuse drugs or alcohol.
        Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Herman says incarcerating someone as mentally ill as Hershberger is not ideal.
        "At the sametime however you have to protect members of the community. When you have someone that poses a threat the system has to act against that. So it's balancing act."
        Barchet says typically when a mentally ill person is charged with a crime they are sent to the state hospital until they reach a stable mental state. If they never reach that state they stay in the hospital.

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