Nature vs. Jail Time
Whose fault is it that Baxter in McEwan’s Saturday is a violent, sadistic and emotionally unstable criminal? Certainly he has Huntington’s Disease, Perowne is able to diagnose this, in fact, because of his observing of Baxter’s violent mood swings.
Now, I watch a lot of crime shows and law shows because that is something I am very interested in pursuing as a career. And like me, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of law knows that many criminals get out of a jail sentence when they plead insanity. (Or by reason of mental flaw or defect). So here is my question: Are people who have mental problems that cause them to be violent or commit crimes at fault? And should they be punished and treated as any other criminal? Should they be pitied?
It has been proven that those who are mentally ill are more likely to engage in illegal activity such as drugs and alcohol which in turn can lead to violent acts. Some very mentally ill people with very extreme bipolar or schizophrenia may be likely to lash out violently against a perceived (though not always accurately so) threat. “Those classified by a report [in in mid 1988] as mentally ill were more likely to have committed a violent offense—52.9 percent of mentally ill inmates in state prison versus 46.1 percent of other state inmates. 28.4 percent of mentally ill probationers had committed a violent crime as opposed to 18.4 percent of other probationers.” (wsws.org) People like this are considered by US law to not be fully responsible for their actions but plenty of people slip through the cracks in the system if they can’t afford a good lawyer or psychiatric exams. “Stanley Faulder, a Canadian National who was not informed of his consular rights, was executed in the state of Texas last month. Faulder suffered diminished mental capacity as a result of a massive head injury received at a young age.” At the same time many mentally ill people are wrongly incarcerated, many non-mentally ill people are able to fake a minor condition to get out of jail time.
So where must we draw the line? There is no blood test for mental illness. When patients are examined they are asked questions and based on their answers a doctor will subjectively decide whether or not they are competent. What must be done? It is important that court appointed doctors examine the defendants in an un-biased manner. People must continue to learn about mental disease and gain some empathy for those affected. They do not chose to be born with their disease. They do not choose to be out of control of their own actions.
Someone very close to me is bipolar. She is very mildly bipolar and medicated, it is almost undetectable. But sometimes she reacts disproportionally to situations, every now and then she slips into a little bit of a depressed funk where she will be emotionally vulnerable for a few days. Every now and then her ups and downs will cause her to do things she might not choose if she were without the disease. Bipolar can cause more risk-taking behavior such as drinking and drug experimentation and sexual experimentation. Consequences that come from this behavior must be understood as more of a chemical flaw in her brain than her conscious decision to create these problems. I suppose I just wish that people would be a little more sensitive. Of course, at the same time, if my friend’s mental defect caused her to commit violent crimes, I would fully expect her to go to a mental hospital where she could be safe from herself, and perhaps treated in a more accepting understanding and forgiving environment. This is where Baxter belongs, despite his violent tendencies, he needs protection from himself more than anything.