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Jonathan Kraut: Meanwhile at the courthouse

Posted: July 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.

For more than 15 years, several times a week, I find myself standing in line at the “criminal window” at one of our local county courthouses.

Fortunately, I am in line as a private investigator pulling records and running criminal backgrounds — rather than to answer to any personal charge of misconduct.

Standing in line week after week and year after year, I have made some observations that the occasional visitor might miss. I thought I would save you the trouble, so here is a quick synopsis.

The rich and famous are never in line — just their attorneys appear.

A significant percentage of those addressing drug charges are actually on drugs while they are at the court.

Habitual offenders and career criminals always make it a point to passionately tell the clerks at the window every and any excuse why they were wrongfully arrested, convicted, or found in violation of parole.

There are those who need constant emotional contact, as they inevitably talk with everyone in line about their personal stuff and suffering.

And finally there are lots of crazies in line, many of whom seem totally lost, dysfunctional or mentally impaired.

It’s sort of like being in line at the post office.

While it is true that there are a number of investigators, military recruiters, paralegals and researches whom I frequently see at court, most people waiting the 30 to 90 minutes to get some help have got “issues.”

I have pulled records over the years in probably 50 courthouses in at least five states, but the group of characters seem always the same.

One cure for stopping illegal immigration could be hosting an all-day tour of the criminal line at the court. This may illuminate for our neighbors the true nature of many Americans.

Recently a drug dealer was making drug deals on his cell phone while he waited to pay a fine on a drug possession charge. I guess the threat of jail is not working to deter crime.

I have seen a number of mother-daughter duos who scream and yell at each other in line, only to act like perfect angels at the window, and then resume the screaming and blaming as they walk away.

It is also common to see a frail elderly woman, dressed to go to church, trying to find where her son had been incarcerated. Most of the time these poor mothers can’t remember their son’s dates of birth or true name.

These examples seem to indicate there may be ties between criminal misconduct and the families in which criminals were raised.

In 2005 a research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated that about 46 percent of adult Americans experience some form of significant mental or cognitive impairment.

Authors Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Lin and Merikangas described an America that seems less wholesome and less functional than one might think.

Further, almost everyone — possessing or not possessing excellent cognitive and problem-solving skills — suffers from distorted memories.

This is where someone remembers the last memory but not the details of the actual event itself (Distortion in Memory for Emotions: The Contributions of Personality and Post-Event Knowledge, published 2014).

This means that memories drift over time and that even a horrific event “seems to get better and better” with each reflection.

One has to wonder if mental illness, cognitive impairment and memory drift explain why we elect some of the people in public office. It certainly explains the condition many of those actually in office.

This also could explain why we tolerate the same idiots who talk around an issue, agreeing with both the proponent and opposition viewpoints, and then refuse to take any meaningful steps to solve anything.

Immigration, the national debt, health care, taxation, privacy laws, a social welfare state — none of these issues are new and none will be resolved in our lifetimes.

So while I am amused and constantly entertained while waiting to pull files and read criminal reports, I am no longer enjoying the speeches and rhetoric extolling the merits and deficiencies of both sides of the same issue — while in the end nothing gets done.

But maybe it is not as bad as I remember.

Jonathan Kraut is a private investigator and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV and on the SCV Interfaith Council.


Allan_Cameron: Posted: July 15, 2014 8:57 a.m.

Yo, Jonathan!! Right On Brother!! Never been in that line. Your report was superb for all who have not seen what you have seen, and certainly, for many who have.

Thank you for being one of the "doers", as well as for this fascinating column.

AlwaysRight: Posted: July 15, 2014 11:58 a.m.

The mental health system in the United States was destroyed in the 1970's by do-gooder organizations like the ACLU. They thought they were "freeing" mentally ill patients from a corrupt and abusive system.

All they did was condemn them to a life of living under freeway overpasses, eating out of trash cans, and standing in lines at courthouses.

The ACLU should be so proud.

projalice11: Posted: July 15, 2014 12:42 p.m.

Bingo Mr. Kraut.. A great column again **

Indy: Posted: July 17, 2014 4:27 p.m.

Here’s a good concise history of mental health issues . . . notice what Reagan did:

TIMELINE: Deinstitutionalization And Its Consequences
How deinstitutionalization moved thousands of mentally ill people out of hospitals—and into jails and prisons.
—By Deanna Pan
| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Under President Ronald Reagan, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act repeals Carter's community health legislation and establishes block grants for the states, ending the federal government's role in providing services to the mentally ill. Federal mental-health spending decreases by 30 percent.

Indy: But please, give the ACLU link you’re discussing . . .

tech: Posted: July 17, 2014 4:54 p.m.

ACLU History: Mental Institutions

Madness, Deinstitutionalization & Murder

In the 1960s, the United States embarked on an innovative approach to caring for its mentally ill: deinstitutionalization. The intentions were quite humane: move patients from long-term commitment in state mental hospitals into community-based mental health treatment. Contrary to popular perception, California Governor Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 196712 was only one small part of a broad-based movement, starting in the late 1950s.13 The Kennedy Administration optimistically described how the days of long-term treatment were now past; newly-developed drugs such as chlorpromazine meant that two-thirds of the mentally ill “could be treated and released within 6 months.”14

At about the same time, two different ideas came to the forefront of American progressive thinking: that there was a right to mental health treatment, and a right to a more substantive form of due process for those who were to be committed to a mental hospital. If there was a right to mental health treatment, then judges could use the threat of releasing patients as a way to force reluctant legislatures to increase funding for treatment.15

The notion of due process for the mentally ill was not radical. American courts have been wrestling with this question from the 1840s onward.16 While perhaps not up to the exacting standards of the American Civil Liberties Union, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was something recognizably like due process before the mentally ill were committed.17 What changed in the 1960s was the result of ACLU attorneys such as Bruce J. Ennis, who claimed that less than 5 percent of mental hospital patients “are dangerous to themselves or to others” and that the rest were improperly locked up “because they are useless, unproductive, ‘odd,’ or ‘different.’”18


tech: Posted: July 17, 2014 4:55 p.m.

Until the 1960s, courts used a medical model when considering commitment: the government’s actions were part of “the historic parens patriae power, including the duty to protect ‘persons under legal disabilities to act for themselves.’ . . . The classic example of this role is when a State undertakes to act as ‘the general guardian of all infants, idiots, and lunatics.’”19 Instead, public safety alone became the legitimate basis for commitment, and with it, a more exacting standard, a bit less than is required for convicting criminal defendants.20

Neither a right to treatment nor a more demanding application of due process alone was particularly destructive, but in combination they made hundreds of thousands of seriously mentally ill people homeless,21 where many died of exposure22 and violence.23 They fell through the cracks, living shorter, more miserable lives, and often greatly degrading the quality of urban life for everyone else.24 A fraction became something quite a bit more unsettling than the mentally ill person begging on the street or disrupting the public library: they became the mad mass murderers of the modern age.

AlwaysRight: Posted: July 17, 2014 6:25 p.m.

Thank you, Tech.

Which, Mr. Indy, brings us back to Mr. Kraut's column. What he witnesses in the courthouse line is the result of this policy of failure to adequately treat the mentally ill.

This is a shame to all of us. Also, think of the enormous expense of dealing with this issue through the courts, jails, law enforcement, emergency rooms, etc....

tech: Posted: July 19, 2014 12:07 a.m.

Agreed, AR.

"Reform" amounted to cost shifting and avoidance of root causes.

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