Why all the “crime stories”?

Short answer: We are all living in an invisible asylum


You might be wondering what the new emphasis on crime stories is about. Several readers have asked. Three have UNSUBSCRIBED to The Daily JOLT newsletter -- and griped, too.

[If you read to the bottom of this editorial, I have a gift for you.]

Here’s why we’ve been covering the various and multiple attacks on bus drivers, late-night break-ins, shopliftings, adult-child-on-parent attacks, failed-brake-light stops, home thefts and even a pants-down shoot-up.

These "crime" stories are important. 

They are a mirror of what's going on outside of our tidy, clean, warm homes.   [Don't worry, we're planning to continue the other work we've done for the past 11 months, reporting on school districts, city and county councils, non-profits, etc., too.]

But there’s a bigger story here. It’s the connection between about two-thirds of these crimes and the situations of those accused of committing them. The situation is generally drug abuse. Alcohol, methamphetamine and heroin, mostly. Sometimes it’s mental illness.  Sometimes it’s both – with the a big chunk of the mental illnesses caused by abuse of street drugs.

It’s the other epidemic going on here.

Often the people accused of crimes are experiencing homelessness, too – but not always.  Compared with the general (housed) population, homeless people seem to be committing a higher percentage of the various crimes being reported. But these people represent a minority of the approximately 1,000 known homeless people in Thurston County.

Why so many junkies?  Why so many homeless people?

The short answer:  It’s because the United States, the State of Washington and our cities have, since 1963, systematically dismantled our psychiatric hospitals and long-term care facilities that treated people with mental illnesses and drug problems. The relative number is staggering: Down 94 percent in Washington.

The longer answer?  Some answers:

  • Street drugs are stronger and more instantly addictive. 
  • People in need of services have to jump through barriers designed to prevent them from receiving services.
  • State laws present a high bar to emergency room physicians, mental health counselors and police officers that prevent involuntary confinement, even when it’s obvious to both trained professionals and lay bystanders that a struggling person needs help.
  • Zoning laws have eliminated low-cost housing options, such as single-room occupancy residences, too.

The JOLT’s position – my position – is that the reporting we’re doing isn’t about criminal behavior only.  We’re exposing the epidemic of drug addiction and mental illness among more than two thirds of these accused people. 

Our communities offer too few places for people to get help.  The jails and prisons are poor substitutes for mental hospitals, assisted living homes, group homes, therapy and recovery services.  We are ALL victims of the upside down structure of our social services programs.

If I were to simply publish the paragraph above, it would get ignored.  By publishing dozens of stories that share some common elements, maybe we can have an impact on the way our legislators and city governments decide to spend our money.

Don’t believe it?  Don’t take my word for it. 

Here’s that gift I promised:

“The Invisible Asylum” is a story that explains this more fully. First published a month ago by City Journal, a national publication that calls itself “the nation’s premier urban-policy magazine,” it’s a profile of one small west-coast city – OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON.

In “The Invisible Asylum” you’ll likely recognize some of the names, if not of Olympia Police officers mentioned but the hospitals in our area. This is no abstract essay. It’s not an opinion piece, either. 

“The Invisible Asylum” is a gift to our cities, our neighborhoods. Will we accept it?  Will you read it?

Danny Stusser is publisher of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater



6 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
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Ruth Apter

Thank you for editorial on why we are seeing an increase in crime. Drastic change needs to happen. I agree with your conclusions.

Friday, April 30
Elaine Louise

I for one appreciate Crime News. It happens to be the only source for local news. I remember when the Olympian actually reported everything from local events to arrests to wedding announcements to births, deaths, etc. Now through your website I feel like I'm once again connected to my community. So Thanks for doing a good job.

Saturday, May 1
Dana Madsen

Of course I appreciate your reporting on the crime wave enveloping us. It is not just a coincidence that crime has gone up along with the official acceptance of the homeless population and the disappearance of mental health facilities to deal with the problems largely associated with the homeless. Keep it up, Danny! We'll get nowhere if we collectively put our heads in the sand.

Sunday, May 2

I was wondering about the change in tone with the articles too. It is heartening that you have a bigger goal in mind and make connections that are so important in our community that need to be fixed. However the murder by skateland doesn't seem to have been covered at all. I'm wondering why that is? It definitely fits into the pattern that you are talking about!

Sunday, May 2
Jeff Evans

"The Invisible Asylum" is an excellent article. I didn't realize there has been such a huge change in the way that the mentally ill are treated. Obviously what we're currently doing isn't working and a change needs to be made.

The plethora of crimes in the Thurston County area is an eye-opener for me. On one hand I feel bad for the people who are mentally ill/homeless/etc. and just trying to survive. On the other hand, what can the rest of us do to keep ourselves, loved ones, and personal property safe? We need to change the way we treat the root of the problem... ideally without adding new taxes!

Monday, May 3

Danny, your column really his the problem straight on.

The move by the state to eliminate almost all institutions dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional problems of out citizens and put them on the streets where local governments could better help them transition into society was a major disaster. BTW this move was an early on existence of the Department of Social and Health Services. But that is another topic worth examining.

Keep up the good work.

Friday, May 7