Finch protects mentally ill from the law
June 10, 2002
“I’m here because of the clones,” said Patrick, a middle-aged man suffering from schizophrenia. “They kidnapped and replaced my girlfriend. That wasn’t my girlfriend I hit, it was her clone!”
After an hour’s conversation with Patrick, and more time poring over his records, Indra Finch ’84, a criminal forensic psychologist at Western State Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, was able to report to the court that Patrick was too delusional to stand trial for assault. Patrick was committed to Western State for treatment. Without Finch’s testimony, he would have gone to jail.
All too often, the mentally ill do end up behind bars rather than getting the treatment they need, says Finch. She evaluates lawbreakers with possible mental illness—most frequently schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or drug-induced psychosis. “Many of these people want to be independent, but their symptoms make them dysfunctional,” says Finch. “For example, some who aren’t able to hold jobs end up stealing food. Then they get caught and end up in the courts.”
At Lewis & Clark, Finch majored in communication under the tutelage of Professor Jean Ward.
“In our communication classes, we learned how to connect with people and read their nonverbal cues. The professors delved into interpersonal issues, focusing on the human aspects of psychology,” says Finch.
After graduating from the College, Finch received an M.A. in theology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. While working in a homeless shelter and the SAFE (Stop Abusive Family environments) Clinic, Finch became curious about the intersection of the mentally ill with the law. This interest solidified during a clinical rotation in forensic evaluation at a state hospital.
Finch’s work is characterized by the approach she absorbed at Lewis & Clark. As she evaluates defendants to see if they are dangerous and/or mentally competent to be tried, her style is personal and highly interactive.
“The best type of care for these folks usually includes consistent treatment with medication,” says Finch. “We badly need more community mental health resources to provide that, but unfortunately, we’ve been seeing cuts instead.” Meanwhile, Finch does what she can to help people like Patrick stabilize their lives.
—by Maya Muir