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Civil Confinement: A violation of Civil Rights

by, Mel Tanzman, Executive Director
Recently, the Journal News the lower Hudson Valley’s newspaper of record had comprehensive coverage of the sexual offender civil confinement law for psychiatrically disabled individuals called “Connie’s Law”. It gave a quite balanced view of an emotionally and politically sensitive issue and suggested in an editorial that it was time to re-evaluate the law. As a 30 year advocate for people with disabilities my views are nonetheless tempered by personal family experiences with loved ones who have experienced psychiatric challenges. For me, the bottom line is that there are plenty of victims in these horrendous stories: both the abused and the abusers; and there are many unindicted criminals: including some members of the psychiatric profession and State Bureaucrats.
Those of us in the Human Services and those of us who have had the distinction of having a psychiatric disability know one thing for sure: that is, treatment for psychiatric problems is often unscientific and imprecise. A trial and error approach is often what is taken and this often leads to overmedication with a goal of controlling symptoms rather than exploring curative solutions. Fewer and fewer people receive supportive problem-solving psychotherapy as many promote the view that these disabilities are merely bio-chemical imbalances to be addressed by the psycho-pharmaceutical industry.
Then there is the horror story of Raul Laguerra Jr., the fifteen year old that was tortured by his Psychiatrist and was a further victim of a punitive state system and law. How can one justify 13 years of incarceration for committing a crime that was the result of medical malpractice. Sadly, the medical perpetrator was never held accountable or prosecuted for his crime, and passed away without ever being held responsible. Now Mr. Laguerra is also being victimized by the State Law and the Office of Mental Health where treatment is punitive incarceration. . Mr. Laguerra had a hearing before State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett on June 19, 2017 and a decision is expected in August 2017. Many observers and mental health and legal experts hold the belief that Civil Confinement is not treatment rather it is warehousing and violating the civil rights of these “offenders”. In my opinion the current offenders are those bureaucrats at OMH who continue to justify these human rights violations by characterizing the victims as “dangerous” individuals. These ivory tower functionaries are using fear as a justification for violating rights. Similar, to our President’s use of discriminatory attitudes to justify a travel ban of Muslim immigrants, they promote the most stereotypical images of those with psychiatric disabilities in their alleged interest of promoting public safety. Perhaps their real interest is protecting the image of a state agency which provides inadequate community based services and makes those who they are supposed to serve the “whipping boys “for their many failures. I join those experts who demand community based intensive meaningful treatment. Spend the resources to develop a continuum of services ranging from halfway houses to intensive case management to peer based crisis intervention community centers and residences. END PUNISHMENT AND PROVIDE TREATMENT!

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