Thursday, July 14, 2005

Editorial: Close the loophole

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (July 14, 2005): Scarborough mother Denise Kring is rightly concerned that a provision in Maine’s juvenile-justice laws allows some juveniles to plead not guilty to a crime by reason of insanity without facing any compulsory medical treatment afterward.

The loophole is a major hole in Maine’s systems of justice and mental health treatment, and should be addressed immediately by state legislators. We are heartened to know that Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Scarborough, is already at work on the matter.

Kring’s daughter Barbara, 20, was badly injured in March, in what police and prosecutors say was an assault with a knife by Barbara’s 15-year-old friend Lyndsay McLaughlin.

The nature and circumstances of the attack remain murky, even to investigators. District Attorney Stephanie Anderson has said in the past, and told the Current again this week, that some evidence appears to point to a suicide pact between the two, while other evidence contradicts that theory.

Barbara Kring and her mother have said in every one of their statements to the Current that Barbara was an innocent and unsuspecting victim, who had gone into the woods with McLaughlin intending only to become “blood sisters."

In a piece Barbara Kring wrote published in the Current in May, she wrote that she and McLaughlin were going to make small cuts on each other's hands and press them together, mixing the blood, as they had seen in the movie "The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood."

McLaughlin is accused of stabbing Barbara in the back and slashing her throat, after which she is believed to have stabbed herself in the stomach.

Were McLaughlin charged as an adult, she could be committed to a mental hospital or compelled to seek other treatment, until medical and legal authorities agreed she was healthy enough to be released.

We hope, and have no reason to doubt, that regardless of legal compulsion McLaughlin’s family will continue to provide any treatment necessary for her to deal with this incident and any related issues.

But it is not hard to imagine a situation, with another child in another family, in which the parents would not be so responsible and would only bring their child to a psychiatrist when ordered by a court to do so.

The juvenile-justice laws are intentionally different from those governing adult criminal behavior and consequences, based on the idea that young people may need additional guidance and support to correct errant ways.

This hole in Maine’s juvenile system is a difference that has the opposite effect. It removes a way that additional guidance and support can be offered, by preventing judges from imposing any conditions on young people who claim they are mentally ill and are therefore not responsible for their actions.

While we would all like to think that parents will do what is best for their children, the cold reality is that they don’t always, just as adults don’t always do what is best for themselves or each other from time to time.

That is why the law needs to allow judges, at the least, the option of compelling treatment for juveniles who plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Jeff Inglis, editor