Prison sentence won't help arsonist or taxpayers

I was infuriated to read the article in the IR that James Frederick Maw has been sentenced to 35 years in the Montana State Prison for arson. This is an example of how our criminal justice system is fractured. I do not blame Judge Kathy Seeley, who noted there were mental health concerns and said, “This is a mental health issue, but it’s also an antisocial issue.” I also understand County Attorney Leo Gallagher when he says, “There needs to be a mechanism to keep the community safe from him.” The “SYSTEM” is not effective in dealing with “mental health issues.” (Read Mental Illness.)

After the 2013 felony, Mr. Maw should have been sentenced to the Montana State Hospital for two to three years of treatment, from which he may have emerged recovering from his mental illness. But the hospital is overcrowded and we do not sentence individuals to treatment. We have also reduced reimbursement rates to mental health providers. So, move forward to the present. We have decided to sentence Mr. Maw to the Montana State Prison for 35 years, which will hopefully only be eight. The cost will be over $30,000 per year to the Montana taxpayers. And, because the Montana State Prison is overcrowded the treatment will be limited, nothing will have changed when Mr. Maw is released. He may in fact, be worse from a mental health standpoint. Somebody explain to me how this makes sense and makes wise use of taxpayer dollars.

-- Dr. Gary Mihelish, president, National Alliance on Mental Illness in Helena