ANCHORAGE, Alaska _ For Victor Oustigoff, the courtroom was not a bad place to be _ away from the sneers and taunts in jail. His lawyer told him that all he would have to do is answer questions. That was simple. He could handle that.
Oustigoff, 63, sat in the hard chair and picked at the cuticles of his worn-down fingernails, his eyes blankly staring at his handiwork. His oily hair hung like a shield over his face.
The question that brought him to court that day: Was he mentally competent to go to trial? Could he help defend himself against criminal charges that he molested six girls?
The judge eventually would rule that he was, despite his I.Q. of 70, which is 30 points below average _ on the edge of retardation, according to professional standards.
There are hundreds of people like Oustigoff in Alaska prisons, people who are mentally incapacitated in ways that cannot be medicated. Many suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, others from traumatic brain injuries. They revolve in and out of the jails. The state punishes them for mostly petty crimes; they do their time and are released, only to come back on new charges.
While the Department of Corrections is the state's largest provider of mental health services, it can do little for people like Oustigoff who are more handicapped than mentally ill. Other state agencies can, in fact, do very little for him also.
If people like him don't have family to monitor their behavior, many are left floating through the world on their own _ hurting and being hurt.
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