What to do with mentally ill criminals? That question has been nagging the justice system for 30 years. Well, it's time to figure it out.
In 2005, Andre Thomas was convicted of killing his wife and children. Everyone agrees he did it. What we should do with him is another matter.
What I'm about to describe is definitely not for younger listeners. Older listeners should keep listening, because Thomas's case raises serious questions about what it means to "do justice."
As detailed in a recent issue of Mother Jones, after killing his family, Thomas cut out his children's hearts to ensure that "that the demons inside each of them would die."
Well, if you're thinking, "Thomas must be crazy," you haven't heard anything yet: Thomas actually believed that his wife was Jezebel and his son was the Antichrist.
Now we're not making light of this. If you wonder whether Thomas "must be faking it," you should know that when he was ten, he tried to saw off his own arm with a butcher knife. Three weeks before the murder, he tried to commit suicide and ended up in the hospital. A hospital physician noted that, "[Thomas] is psychotic."
Well, just how psychotic? Reading the Bible in his cell, he came across Matthew 5:29-"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out . . ." - and he did just that.
What psychiatrists call "auto-enucleation" is extremely rare and an almost-certain symptom of severe psychosis.
Despite this and a lot more evidence that Thomas is insane, he was charged with capital murder, convicted and sentenced to death.
Prison officials have no trouble describing Thomas as a "paranoid schizophrenic." And that's not surprising, since, while on death row, he gouged out his other eye, and consumed it.
Regardless of your opinion on the death penalty, executing a man who should have been declared insane is not justice, and it does not protect the public. Andre Thomas will never again be a free man.
But mental illness is more than just a sentencing problem. It's also a crime-prevention problem-as you've no doubt heard in the gun-control debate. Too often, when the mentally ill come into contact with the justice system, instead of treating them, we throw them in jail or in prison.
And that solves nothing. Not only do the mentally ill take up scarce prison space that should be reserved for dangerous criminals, when they return the streets-and they will-they are more likely to pose a danger to society precisely because they won't have been treated.
That's why Justice Fellowship, founded by Chuck Colson in 1983, is supporting the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act.
The bill sponsor in the House is Republican Rep. Richard Nugent, who served as Sheriff of Hernando County, Florida. Rep. Nugent says "After thirty-seven years in law enforcement, I have seen far too many tragedies result from mental health needs that went either unnoticed, untreated, or misunderstood. This legislation will help give law enforcement the tools and training they need to improve the way that our legal system interacts with individuals suffering from mental health crises."
The bill has bi-partisan support, and Justice Fellowship would love it if you could support it to. Come to BreakPoint.org, and we will link you to all the information you'll need about the Justice and Mental Health Cooperation Act. You'll also be able to learn more about Justice Fellowship's work for biblically-based criminal justice reforms.
Folks, this is a vitally important subject. Christians, above all, need to stand up on issues like this. People like Thomas are unable to speak for themselves; we need to speak for them. So please go to BreakPoint.org and let us know how you feel.