A special committee will meet Thursday to discuss problems with treating mentally ill people in Kansas, particularly at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie.
Some critics say the hospitals are underfunded and understaffed. Others complain from the opposite direction, insisting the facilities are too expensive and don’t work. Almost everyone seems dissatisfied with the current arrangement for helping people with difficult, and sometimes dangerous, mental problems.
Their fears seemed confirmed this month when details emerged about an apparent homicide in Kiowa County. The suspect in the case, Brandon Brown, allegedly killed a man after spending a week in Osawatomie getting help for violent behavior.
Obtaining specifics about the case has been difficult. The courts, law enforcement and the private legal community in Kiowa County had little or nothing to say as The Star reported the story. Some declined to provide public court documents. The state agency that runs Osawatomie was also largely mum.
Part of the silence can be attributed to the inexperience of some local officials. National privacy laws designed to protect Brown from unwanted publicity also played a role. But any official reluctance to fully examine and explain what happened to Brown is worrisome, for a few reasons.
He’s been charged with second-degree murder. It’s extraordinarily important for criminal prosecutions to be open to the press and public. The state’s power reaches its height when it tries to take someone’s freedom, giving all of us a stake in making sure the power is exercised properly.
We don’t have secret trials in America.
We do have an interest in how mentally ill patients are treated. By some estimates, half of all American jail and prison inmates have some sort of mental incapacity. Mental illness costs us billions each year in police costs, prosecutions, incarcerations and treatment. Not to mention the human cost, for defendant and victim alike.
It’s important to protect Brown’s privacy, of course. But state officials shouldn’t use his rights as a shield to prevent a full public examination of mental health treatment in Kansas. That remains a danger.
Had someone connected with the case not stepped forward, it’s possible Kansans would have never heard of the tragedy in Haviland. That isn’t good for the victim or the suspect, or for Kansas, which must try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.