There were 14,022 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the U.S. in 2011. Of these, 12,706 were cleared by arrest. If we assume that 10% of these persons charged were mentally ill (based on studies of murderers and mental illness), that’s about 1270 murders by the mentally ill a year (minus a few suicides among the mass murder set). We could easily be accruing more than $3 billion a year in current and long-term costs. How much mental health care can you pay for with $3 billion?
Of course, this isn’t really fair. If we successfully divert people into the mental health system before they commit crimes like murder, we will also make substantial inroads into other social costs that are somewhat harder to quantify: fewer homeless people begging on the streets; fewer requests to local governments to fund homeless shelters; fewer homeless people making a nuisance of themselves in public libraries. And I have not even considered the other major and minor crimes committed by mentally ill people who fall through the cracks.
I found myself wondering a little while back, how is it that I grew up in California at a time when community college tuition was free, the University of California’s costs were quite reasonable, and yet it was far less wealthy of a society than today? How did they manage to provide so many services, so effectively, with relatively little revenue? I am beginning to wonder if the problems of state or local government that have developed over the last forty years might be because we are spending money trying to clean up disasters, rather than prevent them.