Law exists to help mentally ill get treatment, but few resources - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Law exists to help mentally ill get treatment, but few resources available to do so

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Shaky cell phone video captured the final seconds of an intimidating encounter on Tuesday with Robert Glenn Hall, a homeless man who can be seen punching the passenger side of car window with two women inside. 

With one look at his criminal record, you'll see it was far from his first violent outburst.

Over the course of the past ten years, Hall has been convicted of  63 misdemeanor crimes, including assault and disorderly conduct.  He's been found guilty of harassment 20 times, and on average has served about two weeks in jail before being released and reoffending.

The head of the Institute for Human Services says it's a cycle she's all too familiar with.

"We see it a lot of the time, where someone is repeatedly picked up for mental health type behaviors or behavior related to substance abuse," said Connie Mitchell, the Institute's executive director.

Although there is a law in place to help people diagnosed with mental illness undergo court supervised treatment, advocates say it's rarely utilized. 

Each case requires an attorney, as well as a psychiatrist who is willing to file a petition with the court, to treat the patient.  A social worker is also needed to help the person through the process.  

Often times, the patient will need to be admitted to a treatment center.

"Some people need hospitalization to be stabilized. It used to be that we had the state hospital, but the state hospital is just jam packed with people," says Mitchell.

In order to be declared unfit to stand trial, state law says three psychiatrists must examine patients accused of felony crimes. Hawaii is the only state in the country with that requirement.

But due to the state's lack of qualified examiners, offenders spend an average of four months at the state hospital, making the backlog there even longer.  

Lawmakers recently shot down a bill to change that.

Community psychiatrist Chad Koyanagi says the current system makes it easy for people to fall through the cracks.

"Most of these people probably don't think they're mentally incapacitated and are unable to cooperate in a court hearing," said Dr. Koyanagi.

Many defendants prefer a few days in jail to a lengthy mental evaluation.

"The client would probably just want to serve their time and be done with it," said Dr. Koyanagi.

Experts say changes that need to be made to fix some of the problems could be years down the road.

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