Wis. Dem: Mentally ill need more treatment help

The dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo).
The dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo).
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Legislation aimed at improving Wisconsin's mental health system is nearing final approval, but one state lawmaker said the measures don't do enough to ensure that mentally ill people who might be a threat to themselves or others get the treatment they need.

The bills awaiting Gov. Scott Walker's signature include more funding for mental health services as well as money for programs that provide alternatives to incarceration for the mentally ill, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

But State Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, says more needs to be done. She cites the case of Jaren Kuester, a 31-year-old Waukesha man who pleaded insanity to killing three Wiota farmers last year.

In the days leading up to the slayings, his family tried to persuade Waukesha County officials to detain him. Kuester, who had a history of depression and psychosis, had been delusional following his dog's death, according to his father, Jim Kuester.

But a social worker sent the family away because the elder Kuester couldn't provide convincing evidence that his son was a danger to himself or others, said Peter Schuler, who was director of Waukesha County Health and Human Services at the time.

The standard of determining whether someone is dangerous enough to warrant commitment is fuzzy, Pasch said. There needs to be a clearer legal standard to ensure the mentally ill get help before others get hurt, she said.

"They need somebody to see them all the time in supportive housing, and they need to be helped through the process as they're evaluated and studied for changes," she said.

Kuester faces a hearing Friday in Lafayette County, where a judge is expected to commit him to a state mental health facility for the rest of his life as part of a plea agreement. Kuester previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

Lafayette County Sheriff Scott Pedley, who was friends with the three victims, said the state needs to do more to eliminate the barriers Jim Kuester encountered as he sought help for his son.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he was open to the idea of future legislation to address such problems.