After a criminal who had been acquitted for two murders on an insanity plea escaped from the forensic psychiatry hospital in Oregon, the institution was hit by a dizzying chain of events that can all be attributed to the escape. Although the escaped patient was re-arrested shortly after without any incident, there were major repercussions to the hospital as a result of the incident. Over the following weeks, there was intense scrutiny on the incident and other issues relating to other local hospitals in local publications. On a daily basis for the next month, local newspapers published articles on hospital matters most of which made it to the front page. In this article, we will give an account of what transpired in the Oregon forensic psychiatry hospital incident and examine the effect of media coverage on how public mental health systems are administered especially when they deal with forensic psychiatry.
There are contradictory forces which shape how people view public mental health hospitals. On one hand, they have provided treatment and care to people who are mentally ill in the society and have been proven to have immense therapeutic benefits to both patients and their loved ones. Governments have been pressured to provide resources to care of the largely unrepresented population of mentally ill patients because the public has a view that mentally ill people can be embarrassing, offensive and occasionally a danger to themselves and other people. These negative views of mentally ill people being treated in state psychiatric hospitals are more reinforced when it comes to forensic psychiatry patients. Although forensic psychiatry patients are not criminals by nature, most of the public views them as such and they are thus treated in a hospital setting that is akin to a prison. Most people describe forensic psychiatry patients as being ‘criminally insane’ showing the stigma this group of patients face from society.
Given how people view forensic psychiatry patients, security in forensic psychiatry institutions is usually given paramount importance. These institutions have complex procedures and policies that are designed to ensure that those who reside and work in these places remain safe and that there is little chance of patients escaping.
We will now focus on issues that are related to the escape at the Oregon forensic psychiatry hospital. In a forensic hospital, the security measures to prevent an escape can be considered to start from relatively relaxed to tight. When in a hospital there is a tight level of security measures to prevent an escape, they usually come at a great personal cost to patients. This cost usually arises in the limitation on how they can smoothly integrate back to the society once they are released. Remember that most forensic patients lack basic skills needed for proper and harmonious living in a community such as choosing friends as well as budgeting and planning their time and cash. In order to learn these skills, patients usually need guidance as well as some exposure to real life community experiences. In order to change the behavior, attitude and, feelings of a forensic psychiatry patient, there is a lot of patience required since there are numerous repetitive simulations of real-life community experiences needed.
When treating forensic psychiatry patients, it is sometimes nearly impossible to create a balance between the security measures required and the therapy treatment needed. For example, it becomes hard to create a setting that allows a patient the freedom and lower supervision they need if the treatment they are being given is to work. A hospital that does not tolerate the escape of patients can manage to get zero escapes but at the same time, they run the risk of being accused of inhibiting the treatment progress of patients due to lack of proper exposure to community life. Such institutions therefore run the risk of being accused of playing a part in perpetuating the failure of success in treatment of forensic patients as well as increasing the despair of patients. This paper will examine the effects of the media attention to the escape of one forensic psychiatry patient from a forensic mental hospital. It will explore how the media attention created by the escape of the patient influenced the decisions of the forensic hospital as it tried to create a balance between the security needs of the institution and the need of forensic patients to experience community life which is essential in the treatment process.