Friday, June 02, 2006

Justice, Mercy, and Schizophrenia

I've been here at the Public Defender's office for three weeks now, and I've seen some really fascinating issues daeling with our criminal justice system. One thing that has become very apparent to me is that mental illness is a huge issue in criminal justice, and there are a lot of difficult decisions to be made in the area.

Recently I was in the court house watching our trials and there were ack to back defendants suffering from pretty severe schizophrenia. One was violation of probation terms, and his illness obviously had a lot to do with it. He forgot appointments, missed classes, etc. The other had done something more serious, but again, the illness had a lot to do with it. Both got pretty harsh sentences and I found myself feeling really sorry for these guys, but at the same time realizing two things.

One-It probably wasn't safe for them or others to just put them back on the streets and Two-they really had violated the law and it didn't seem right just to let them off without and consequences (even though at times when I saw their illness that is what I was hoping would happen.)

It is a really hard problem to deal with, how do justice and mercy work together for people who really don't know exactly what they are doing? I was mostly thinkinng about it in a legal sense, but I guess that the same problem could exist in the spiritual sense. I don't think that there is an answer, but any thoughts?

5 Comments:

At 6/02/2006 02:43:00 PM,

Interesting article with those issues written by our beloved Professor Turley.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2006-05-29-insanity-defense_x.htm

If the link doesn't work, get a hold of me - I have the original article and updates.

 
At 6/02/2006 02:43:00 PM,

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/
2006-05-29-insanity-defense_x.htm

 
At 6/02/2006 11:15:00 PM,

Being that I majored in Psychology in undergrad, I have thought a lot about this. From what I have learned and my personal opinion, I think their problems from these illnesses are often times a product of their environment.

I believe most of the criminals in our society have psychological problems that stem from awful childhoods filled with abuse and neglect. These criminals often times were raised by parents who were themselves abused and further perpetuate the cycle.

It has often made me think about the importance of families and good parenting. So many parents are on drugs and their children are put in foster care and they end up on the street and eventually commit crimes. If only they would have had loving, caring parents who were stable enough to provide a good upbringing.

I wish/hope that someday there is a better way for these criminals to "rehabilitate" rather than sit in prison. It would take a tremendous amount of money and work, but I think facilities could be built for criminals with psychological disorders to counsel with professionals and work through their problems.

 
At 6/03/2006 08:01:00 PM,

I have to add that in an experiment in England, when they gave the felons vitamins they reduced disciplinary problems by 50%. 

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

 
At 6/06/2006 07:01:00 AM,

Thanks Linds, I agree with you that there needs to be more focus on rehabilitation. Here's something from a book I was reading on the criminal justice system:

"The Department of Justice estimated that in 199 16 percent of the inmates in U.S. Jails and prisons were mentally ill. THat would equal 333,000 of the current inmate population--which doesn't include the number of mentally retarted inmates. Retardation often often isn't formally identified in jails and prisons, so estimates of its incidence are less certain. THe number of patients in state and county mental hospitals, on the other hand, has dropped from 370,000 in 1969 to 55,000 in the year 2000.

THe consequences suffered by mentally disabled convicts ofter are especially harsh. THey kill themselves and try to do so far more frequently than other prisoners, and they have man more run-ins with guards and otther inmates. Mentally reatrted prisoners in particular often have trouble comprehending what's expected of them, which leads to frequent punishment, including solitary confinement, and sometimes to longer sentences. Reatrted inmates also are more likely to be exploited and injured than other prisoners."

 

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