I worked as a Public Defender for nearly 30 years. I had clients who were extremely intelligent. I had clients who were severely mentally challenged. Some were healthy, some were not. Some had family. Most did not. They were all facing the consequences for their actions or the actions of others. Some were innocent, some were not guilty and some, many, were guilty of the charges brought against them.
The most challenging, the most heartbreak were the hundreds that were mentally ill or, worse yet, brain damaged. The mentally ill had a modicum of legal protections. The brain damaged had none. The mentally ill had some services to assist them during and after their legal confrontations.
The brain damaged had none.
Usually the brain damage came from traffic accidents. Sometimes it came from a fall. Sometimes it was a result of a biological reaction to food or medication. Sometimes the damage resulted from a stroke or a blood clot. Sometimes it was the ravages of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Brain damage can, and often does, result in behavioral changes. My clients who were brain damaged did not understand why they did the things they did. They often did not understand WHY their actions were considered wrong. They had lost the ability to make that determination. They ‘knew’ that others would think it wrong but they could not make that perspective apply to their actions.
It left them confused, shameful, withdrawn, angry, hostile or violent. They thought they were crazy. They were often suicidal.
Not until the last years of my practice were there ANY mechanisms that allowed the legal system to treat these cases in any way other than that which was applied to everyone. Even today, there is no institutional care or support of these people. Dementia patients who become violent and have no family support are left to sit in jails. The homeless are in a revolving door with no community support (disruption and violent behavior is not tolerated at homeless shelters for obvious reasons) going from jail to encampment to jail.
It is so very hard to sit next to a person in court who is suffering from the effects of brain damage and know that there is NOTHING you can do.
This rant comes to you today because of the following article. Please take the time to read it and consider alternatives for those whose lives have gone in directions that they did not want.