Tuesday 8 June 2010

Walking with Vince Li

I know that everybody is just dying to hear what I have to say about Vince Li getting supervised walks outside the mental institution where he now makes his home.

Well, I more or less agree with Graham over at PW. I think many people have lost their perspective on this matter. Vince's crime was so horrific that it has created an event horizon around people's brains from which rationality cannot escape. I got dangerously close to that threshold ... I was somewhat appalled when I found out he would be walking in a yard with no fences or barriers separating him from the public, and when his shrink said "I would let him walk my daughter home from school" my reaction was "Worst ... father ... ever." I realized, however, that this is not a completely rational position to take. I mean, the part about letting him outside for a few minutes each day. (I still would not let him walk my daughter home from school.) Murderers in prison get to go outdoors once in a while, and locking Vince up in a dark cell like Henri Charriere in Papillon would likely just make his sequestered demons even stronger.

As I have probably mentioned before, I worked in the same building and on the same floor as Vince Li for about half a year. During that time, I am happy to say that Vince did not decapitate, mutilate, nor cannibalize me. In fact, every single person that Vince has met during his life -- except one -- can say the same thing. The point is that certain conditions and circumstances have to come together to trigger the combination of neurons that caused him to commit those horrific acts. One of those factors, of course, is a lack of medication. He is currently in a controlled environment where he takes his meds and is under constant supervision, therefore he is not a risk.

For that reason, I also do not believe he should be allowed to leave that controlled environment. he may very well reach a point where he appears capable of reintegrating into society, but left on his own there is no guarantee that he will continue to take his medication and will not have another "episode". Given the severity of his last episode, I'm not sure that's a risk society should take.

Nevertheless, at the current time Vince is not a risk, and people -- including our Attorney General Mr. Swan -- are overreacting. Dan Lett makes an excellent distinction between "public interest" and "public opinion" in the paper. They are not necessarily the same thing, and in this case our government representative made the decision to score cheap political points by catering to irrational fear, rather than concentrating on the public interest. Lord knows there are many other pressing crime and justice problems that demand action in the public interest that Andrew Swan should be spending his time solving.


Prairie Topiary said...

Nice summary. I agree with you completely.

In the Free Press comments, one commenter wrote something to the effect of "I hear they actually let him sleep in a bed." I thought it was a rather funny retort to those who've completely lost perspective on this issue.

DriveGoddess said...

Didn't you know that amongst a certain bloodthirsty set it is quite fashionable to keep repeating "execute the bastard" or whatever other draconian measure could be suggested followed by exhortations against the government for not being tough enough etc....so now the NDP caves to this subset of humans who live in glass houses suffering from delusions of pure morality and such....sheesh....I really wished some folks would take the time, like you have, to understand the demons of severe mental illness.

Looks to me like our society still has a long way to go.

Sean Carney said...

What troubles me about this is we seem to be losing the psychiatric vs prison distinction.

In a prison context, the state (judges and, by some extension, politicians) decide the sentencing of inmates. They have the overall responsibility of assessing whether an inmate is fit for early release.

In a psychiatric context, this responsibility largely falls to the doctors. Generally I trust doctors, so it troubles me that their opinions are being overridden by politicians who aren't responsible for the day to day care of Li.

I'm worried we are going to set some precedent for future cases where the health of those incarcerated for psychiatric reasons will be judged by politics, not by those with medical experience.

cherenkov said...

I hear you, Sean, and generally agree, but I also wonder if we should have a system that some other countries do where in extreme cases -- and I would consider this to be one -- the courts have the flexibility to find somebody to be criminally insane and mandate life or some minimum period of time in an institution. There is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a person to walk free in 3 or 5 years after doing the things he's done. We need some parameters to maintain the appearance of justice, if not the safety of the public, then within those parameters the doctors can manage the patient as they see fit.

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