Seattle Grapples With How To Handle Repeat Offenders With Mental Illness

By Victoria Kim 07/16/19

Seattle's mayor says that the city and state both need to step up and find a better solution for handling repeat offenders with mental illness. 

Seattle police officer talking to repeat offender with mental illness

Seattle’s mental health crisis—intertwined with homelessness and drug abuse—has become not only a matter of public health, but public safety as well. Recent attacks on innocent strangers have highlighted the growing problem.

Crime against people is up 43% from 2016, according to the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), which echoes the city’s own figures.

According to NPR, part of the problem lies in not knowing how to deal with repeat offenders who are living with mental illness.

In March, a man named Jonathan James Wilson was charged with attempted assault for grabbing a woman he did not know and attempting to throw her off of a 40-foot-high overpass. Wilson, who was homeless, had been arrested three times since September 2018 for assaulting strangers.

According to KIRO, a Seattle Municipal Court judge decided to dismiss all of the assault charges “by reason of incompetency” after Wilson was given a mental health competency evaluation.

Mental Health Revolving Door

Just last Tuesday (July 9), 29-year-old Christopher Morisette was arrested for randomly stabbing three people in the downtown area, including a valet worker. It was later reported that Morisette, too, was a repeat offender. Since 2009 he has had 34 cases filed against him, according to the Seattle Times.

Morisette received a diagnosis of unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and unspecified substance use disorder, according to a forensic mental health report on his condition. Police say he reported using methamphetamine on the day of the recent attacks, and that he had no memory of the time between July 4 and his arrest.

His mother, Susan Morisette, told the Times that her son has been through a “mental-health revolving door” in the last decade—repeating the cycle of going to jail, receiving help, then becoming unstable again. “It’s hard to get my hopes up when he’s doing well because I know it’s not going to last,” said Morisette.

Examples like these illustrate what Seattle is facing in terms of homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness.

Underfunded Programs

Following the attacks by Morisette, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said, “I think what this incident this morning shows is we know we have severely underfunded and are unable to deal with significant mental health needs, and we have to do better as a city, county and state,” she said according to KOMO News.

City Attorney Pete Holmes says Seattle is struggling to provide the necessary support to combat this problem. “We’re finding out that the system is really at its maximum,” he said, according to NPR. “I think the judge and I even agree on that—that those services really are at their limit.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr