A story just popped up on my alerts about an 85 year old man who allegedly offered a parent shopping at a Winn-Dixie $100,000 to purchase their daughter. True story, you can read more here. My initial thought was this was an old guy making a joke, but no. The guy was on probation for the same thing. Three years ago he made headlines for offering a shopper at WalMart $200,000 to buy her daughter (you can read that one here).

So my second thought became, OK… guy in his 80s… maybe he’s getting a bit of dementia in his old age? If you think about it, it’s obvious! If he’s offering $200,000 three years ago and $100,000 today, clearly he’s not coherent enough to recognize the record inflation we’ve experienced and besides, prices at Winn-Dixie are higher than WalMart in all categories. Clearly he’s not in his right mind.

But seriously (not suggesting this is not a serious crime or one to joke about), there could be a real probability that this man has mental health issues and the criminal justice system might not be the best way to handle this.

The situation reminded me about a friend of my grandparents. A woman in their building who I always remembered to be very sweet and sharp for her age began showing signs of dementia. She would go downstairs to get her mail and be able to make it back to her apartment, only when she got there the key didn’t work (because she was on the wrong floor). The embarrassing moments eventually became more frequent and the reaction changed from embarrassment to anger. One day she returned home and literally physically attacked a woman in her apartment because she caught her having an affair with her husband. The reality was that it wasn’t her apartment (she got the wrong floor again), and her husband had passed away a few years earlier.

By no means is it OK to assault someone or offer to buy a kid from WalMart, I’m not excusing the conduct, but is jail really the best way to handle a mental health issue?

Right now, the 85 year old who got arrested yesterday is sitting in Volusia County Jail. He had his first appearance a half hour ago and his arraignment is scheduled for September 6th. Because he’s on the registry (for the WalMart thing) and now violated his probation, he will remain in custody. Who knows if the guy even knows where he is or why he’s there? One thing is for sure though, he’s probably not going to get better sitting in there. If jail were a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, there would be a line to get in.

And don’t get me wrong, I understand the other side of the argument. Should we just let someone with this propensity out? He will likely show up at Publix next month offering another parent money for their kid. It’s a situation that has no easy solutions, but we need to start finding some because we can’t keep filling our jails with mental health cases and using police as the front line instead of social workers.

The same holds true with the registry. We have so many people who have developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or mental health issues on the list. The registry is not going to make them better, it will only complicate their ability to function. An interesting (somewhat related) article came out in an Australian publication yesterday about this topic. it said, “We use jail to mop up our failures. It saves us from dealing with the real problems that require funding,” While the sick need to be treated and the dangerous should be punished, what happens when the sick become dangerous? It is so much easier to send the cops to lock them up than deal with the underlying conditions. And there are more votes in opening a prison than a psychiatric clinic.”

It’s sad from all sides.



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