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A crime, penalty and illness

By Tom Davis

His crime was stalking Lauren Bush, the president's niece. His problem is that he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Prior to the incident, 32-year-old Lucas Schloming was not taking his anti-psychotic medication. He had no job, and he was living at his parents' home in Cambridge, Mass.

Schloming's punishment doesn't fit the crime, his family says.

He was ordered for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation that took three months. No medication was given during that time, they say.

After the evaluation, he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. He has been at the FederalMedicalCenter in Butner, N.C., for six months – still, with no medication being given, his father says.

Because of his mental illness, he's being treated like a "political prisoner," says his father, Skip Schloming. "He's being incarcerated without a trial."

Millions of people with mental illness commit crimes. Many of them are guilty. In the eyes of the public, however, few are presumed innocent, mental health advocates say.

Once they enter the judicial system, people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other disorders are at a disadvantage, advocates say. They lack understanding of their illness and the legal system.

Many can't speak for themselves. Nor can many afford a lawyer, since the vast majority of people with mental illness are poor. They lack the where withal to cop a plea bargain and cut themselves a break.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 16percent of the nation's incarcerated population is mentally ill, and 53 percent of the inmates with severe mental illness have been convicted of violent crimes, versus 46 percent for all other inmates.

Those with mental illness serve longer sentences than people with comparable rap sheets, said Ron Honberg, director for policy and legal affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"There's no doubt that mental illness works against them in the criminal process," Honberg said.

The issue of medication is complicating the process, Honberg said. Lucas Schloming didn't take his. Instead of focusing on improving his situation, he obsessed over what got him into trouble.

"He is a brilliant, potentially high-functioning person who has gotten totally derailed by his persistent and worsening medication non-compliance," his father says.

Schloming knew his son was sick. He was off his medication for long periods of time, and he wasn't regularly meeting with mental health professionals. He knew his son had feelings for Lauren Bush. But he never considered him a threat.

"He has never shown any hostility or outward acts to anyone outside of the family," Schloming said. "He only gets angry at the family."

Initially, Lucas got Bush's e-mail address off the Internet, his father said. He sent her online photos of herself as a model and photos of roses. The messages were mostly bizarre or incomprehensible, his father says.

Eventually, the Secret Service came to his home, interviewed his son and decided he was not a threat, his father said. They told him not toe-mail her, he said, and he complied.

But a week later – unbeknownst to his family -- he flew from Boston and planned to approach Bush at PrincetonUniversity, where she's a student. He never did, but the Secret Service hunted him down and arrested him last year.

"His intentions were only to explain himself – not in any way to harm her," his father said.

Assistant U.S. attorney Eric Schweiker, who's helping to build the case against Lucas Schloming, had little to say in response to the father's claims. He called it a "serious case, and we're handling it that way."

Meanwhile, with the help of the NationalCenter on Institutions and Alternatives, Schloming's family has provided a detailed diversion proposal – including several doctors' recommendations that he be medicated involuntarily -- to lawyers involved in the case.

A hearing has been scheduled for April 11 in U.S. District Court in Trenton. Skip Schloming says it's about time.

"What illness in the United States is left untreated for nine months when the treatment is known?" he asked.

Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.

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