stacy was here (and probably spinning....): Diminished Capacity















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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Diminished Capacity

I distinctly remember when this case took place, because it happened very shortly after I first got to New York. Being so close to Canada, we got a lot more of their news stories, though I know this was on international news all over the place because of the gruesome nature of the crime.

I mean, clearly, this man is mentally ill, I don't in any way dispute that, but having gone through the devastation of murder within my circle of friends, I have a bit of a different perspective on this than most people. Having also worked for a law enforcement agency, and having daily come into contact with the mentally ill in various stages of treatment also gives me a bit of mental pause in reading about this case.

Really, what it gets down to, is evaluating what the purpose of incarceration really is. If the purpose of incarcerating a criminal is to rehabilitate them, then yes, this man belongs in a mental health facility. If the purpose of incarceration is to punish him, then I agree that he does not belong in prison, because if it is true that he is schizophrenic, then abnormal dendritic pruning in his brain renders him at least somewhat incapable of assessing the consequences of his actions, or at worst completely unable to distinguish between what's going on in his head and what's going on in reality. If the purpose of incarceration is to protect the public at large, then prison or mental health facility, this man should never, ever be released.

In my experience working with the mentally ill within a law enforcement context, when a person is put into a mental health facility, a course of treatment is begun, usually something will work, and after a while the person comes to function in a more or less normal capacity. However, I can also say that a large proportion of the schizophrenic people I have encountered come to a point where they are functioning so well they begin to believe that they are "cured" and that it would be safe for them to discontinue their medical treatment. The problem is that there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can be managed but no better than that, and once the treatment is discontinued they slide rapidly back into a position where they could potentially be a danger to themselves or to other people.

So even if they send this individual for treatment and it works and he comes to a point where he is mentally stable, that mental stability is not, by any means, guaranteed to be long-lasting. It's a sticky situation. Can you consider him responsible in the same way you would consider a normal person responsible? I don't think so, anymore than you can consider a person with type 1 diabetes responsible for the dysfunction of their pancreas. But the problem is that it is already clearly established that this person presents a substantial risk to the well-being of others, so it's not a responsible position to think that you can treat him and then release him without some sort of consequences. So which is the larger responsibility, the responsibility to protect the rights of the individual, or the responsibility to protect the safety of the community? It's not exactly an easy situation to navigate, and no matter what there is not going to be true, complete justice (if such a thing even exists.)

posted by Cat Named Eggroll @ 12:31 PM   0 comments


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