Crazy In Alabama

schoolbus

You know how the NRA always says that new gun laws won’t stop the latest tragedy from happening again? That is at least as true about SB15. Now sailing through the state house, this bill will make it a crime for an unauthorized adult to enter a school bus in the state of Alabama. Via School Transportation News:

The state judiciary committee, chaired by Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, issued the favorable report. Ward sponsored the senate version of the bill, while Rep. Alan Baker sponsored the house version bill, HB105. So far no action has been made there.

Before the report, the bill’s misdemeanor charge was amended from a Class B to a Class A. This change increases the maximum penalty fine from $3,000 to $6,000 as well as the maximum county jail time served from six months to one year, said Lightsey.

SB15 will not stop the next Jimmy Lee Dykes from shooting a bus driver and kidnapping a five year-old child. After designing, digging, and stocking his bunker, does anyone honestly imagine a doubled fine would have stopped Dykes cold with fear before he boarded the bus with his gift of broccoli and bullets? And remember, the FBI won’t tell us how they got into the bunker because they think they will have to do it again.

But hey, you know what might actually cut down on the number of crazy people with bunkers and guns? A mental health system. You know, like the one that the state of Alabama just finished deconstructing to save money:

The decision to close four hospitals and lay off 948 employees is a bleak reminder of Alabama’s shrinking budget. But it is also the latest example in a longstanding national effort among states to relocate mentally ill patients from government hospitals to small group homes and private hospitals.

Mental health advocates believe patients often get better care in smaller, less isolating facilities. Since the 1990s, Alabama has closed 10 other mental health treatment centers.

“What’s unusual is how many hospitals in Alabama are being closed so fast,” said Bob Carolla, a spokesman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The trend has been to downsize much more gradually.”

The Times Daily talked to Lauderdale County Probate Judge Dewey Mitchell about the cuts, and he was unequivocal:

“My personal opinion is that it sounds like this is a going-out-of-business step for the Department of Mental Health,” Mitchell said. “If that were to happen, the ripple that would occur for people with mental illness and their families would be catastrophic.

“It would impact literally thousands of lives of people in the state that suffer from mental illness and will impact everything in the state of Alabama probate judge system. I see nothing positive that’s coming out of this.”

[...] Residential programs do exist to help mentally ill patients, but there is a risk, said Betty Robertson, an advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and a member of Riverbend Center for Mental Health board of directors.

“A lot of people with mental illness are caught up in the middle, and go back and forth to the hospital, to the jail,” Robertson said. “They become depressed, they become suicidal. Their judgment is so poor that they get kicked out of where they are living.”

For both Mitchell and Colbert County Probate Judge Tommy Crosslin, hospitals such as North Alabama Regional and Bryce are extremely important because these locations are where many people with an acute mental illness will be transferred if they appear in probate court.

“Just off the cuff, it’s very concerning,” Crosslin said. “I know they’ve been trying for years to do this community thing, like halfway houses and to get them to function in society again.

“But you have to get them to that point. That’s what the hospital was used for, to get them back on their meds and going again.”

Alabama has cut its mental health budget by 36% in three years, the second-largest state reduction out of fifty. According to polls, deeply-red Alabama is also the most conservative state in the country. Don’t imagine those two data-points are unrelated. Because if you ask the Alabama legislature about revenue to expand mental health services, they will explain the Heart of Dixie cannot afford taxes because it is a poor state. See how that works?

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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