When does it become a standard that convicted murderers receive psychological evaluations in an attempt to understand what motivated their heinous act? Why are those who have taken a human life through violent means not fully evaluated before they are released back into society? Case in point; a murderer was freed from prison last Friday and bludgeoned his mother to death.
In 1984, fifteen year old Steven Pratt was hanging out with some friends in his apartment’s hallway. A neighbor, Michael Anderson, told the group to quiet down. An argument ensued between Pratt and Anderson.
When the crowd dispersed, Pratt found a lead pipe and went to confront Anderson at his apartment. When he opened the door and witnessed Pratt carrying the lethal object, he wrestled it away from him. He turned the weapon on Pratt, bloodying his face.
The specifics are uncertain, but Pratt returned with a handgun he had borrowed from another person and shot Anderson to death.
The trial took place in 1986; Pratt was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in the New Jersey State Prison.
Pratt, now 45 years old, was released from prison last Friday. On Sunday, in Atlantic City, a next-door neighbor of Steven’s mother, Gwendolyn, heard a loud argument in the apartment. She was considering a 911 call, but decided not to. She said she had previously been accused of ‘being too quick to call the police.’
When police did arrive around 6:30 on Sunday morning, they discovered the body of 64-year-old Gwendolyn Pratt. Steven was arrested. Autopsy reports confirmed that she had suffered severe head trauma from a blunt object. He is being held for allegedly committing his mother’s murder on one million dollars bail.
There was no information given about Pratt’s conduct while he was a prison inmate. Did he demonstrate a violent personality while he was incarcerated? Had he been involved in fights? If so, how vicious were those encounters?
If he had displayed a propensity to harm others, why was he released? If he had to be released for legal reasons; if the reason was that he had ‘served his time,’ and there was reason to believe he might repeat his act of violence, shouldn’t there be a legal provision which might deny his release?
An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry published in March 2012 lists methods which can be used to assess an individual’s risk to society.
Dr. Alec Buchanan notes that there have been significant changes in the way psychiatrists approach the assessment of patients possessing a tendency towards violence. Factors include the patient’s history, personality, environment, and symptoms within a case by case study. The accuracy of these assessments has been proven in their ability to predict future acts of violence by the examined patient. Ethics require that a history of physical abuse received by the patient in childhood be considered and evaluated. When all factors are included, an accurate prediction can be made about the possibility of the patient committing future crimes involving violence.
The proficiency of the psychiatric community to predict future violent action by an individual has greatly increased, along with their ability to ‘cure’ those under their care. The population of patients residing in mental health facilities has continually declined from an all-time high of 550,000 in 1955.
If this can be done, it should be done. Gwendolyn Pratt might be alive today, only three days after her son, a murderer, was freed from prison and bludgeoned her to death.