Voices and Silence

It was no secret that Jason Molacek heard voices telling him to murder. Cops, counselors, his parents--they all knew. So why didn't anyone stop him before he shot his mom to death?

"The plans at Bar None as he understood them were for him to finish his school year there and graduate from high school in June," Malmquist reported. "He also stated there were other plans on the agenda where he would be set up with a plan for the summer, such as achieving a driver's license, planning and arranging for him to get a job, being able to continue with his group therapy and his weekly therapy sessions at the AA program, along with his medications."

The fact that Molacek, his family, and his caregivers were all optimistic is remarkable given the number of admissions and placements that hadn't resulted in any real progress. It's not hard to imagine that trusting the system one more time had required a tremendous leap of faith.

"We in the mental health system are very prone to scrutinizing people," writes Turnquist. "Visits with us can feel like a microscopic examination aimed at discovering every little flaw. We often overlook how painful this scrutiny can be for mentally ill people, who are already terribly self-conscious. Sad to say, much of our scrutinizing is ultimately based in self-interest. We want our clients to reflect well on us. We want them to have goals and show progress and attend treatment programs regularly. We particularly don't want them to misbehave in ways that we can be blamed for.

"So there is a broad tendency to label any anger or irritability as evidence of symptoms of the underlying illness, with a resultant push for more medication to control the symptoms," he adds. "Talk to any group of mentally ill consumers and the complaint that 'I can never get angry for any reason without someone asking me if I'm taking my medications' is likely to emerge. And, of course, mentally ill people often have a lot of perfectly good reasons to be angry."

"I wanted to say that Jason probably should have stayed at Bar None a little bit longer. He was scheduled, we were talking about having him stay there until June. Then when he turned 19, Hennepin County said, 'Well, we're not going to pay for it,' essentially, so we had to get him out of there. That was the end of February. His birth date was March 3rd, and we did.... Well, we were kind of disappointed. We were talking about having him stay overnight and things like that. We never had an opportunity for him to do that, stay overnight.

"Anyway, of the little things I just wanted to say is that when he was at Bar None, Jason was on the basketball team. He used to do the laundry. There was some younger kids there, Jason knows how to coach, he used to get up and coach. He was doing good in school, he was getting pats on the back, doing good."

--Richard Molacek at his son's first sentencing hearing last December.

When Jason Molacek learned he was to be sent home from Bar None, he was "stunned," according to his psychiatric report. "One part of him felt he would be 'free,' but another part of him felt 'in a state of shock'.... He stated that he liked the structure they had, such as the definiteness in the policies, and knowing if he violated a rule he would be locked in his room. Although there were some episodes there over the one and one-quarter years he stayed there, he saw it as a period when he had achieved some settling down, especially relative to the period before that."

Using a 100-point scale called the Global Assessment of Functioning--designed to offer a standardized numeric measure of how well a patient is coping socially and psychologically--Malmquist placed Molacek's level of functioning at Bar None to be 60. (By comparison, most people's scores fluctuate in the 70 to 90 range.) In the weeks following his release, it would fall to 30, according to the psychiatrist.

With a few strictly defined exceptions involving major crimes, the law decrees that the juvenile justice system's jurisdiction over delinquents ends on their 19th birthday. And unless someone is committed to a psychiatric facility as mentally ill, adults in this country have the right to refuse mental health services. Molacek's juvenile record is sealed, of course, but there's nothing in Malmquist's summary to suggest that he would have turned down further services--such as the chance to complete his Bar None treatment plan.

Michael Belton, head of Hennepin County Juvenile Probation Services, can't comment on Molacek's juvenile cases. His department is generally considered by those who work in child welfare and in the court system to be quite good. It boasts its own mental health clinic and several community outposts. At least two adults are typically responsible for monitoring the progress of children in the community who are under its jurisdiction. Probation Services ends up providing services to kids who have been bounced from one social service agency or mental health clinic to another.

"Frequently the kids who come in with the lowest offense levels have the greatest need for support," says Belton. "The mental health community and service providers have to some degree failed the kids in the corrections system."

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