Mental Illness Is An Issue Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

We hear constantly about prisoners that are locked up because they are either insane, schizophrenic, bipolar, etc... possibly a multitude of unlimited mental problems to choose from. But, considering the proposition that someone is guilty of a crime (i.e. murder, rape, assault, etc...) and the perpetrator in custody is mentally ill. Should he or she be found guilty based solely on the evidence of the crime? If the physical evidence points directly towards a notion of guilt are they, the mentally ill, considered then, completely guilty? Wortley (2011) writes that [American] law is founded in classical school of free will and the consideration of someone's culpability of a crime to be unfound is outside the realm of current day law(pg 9). Does society need to revisit the way which criminal justice deals with mentally ill, not only for safety but future prevention of crime?

What ever the reason mentally ill are treated the way they are, when they are going to court, r the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, and court should consider, as the trial proceeds, what was the state of mind that the defendant, the mentally ill, was in at the time of the crime? Did the defendant know what they were doing was wrong? Did they know it was illegal? The legal teams and court must take into consideration the psychological and psychiatric factors that the accused individual was in before the crime had occurred. Also are their forces outside of the person's reach that he or she cannot control? This form of theory where actions occur outside of an individual personal control is known as determinism (Wortley, 2011).

Does the defendant in question had or does have a mental break down or had or has mental illness which occurred during the events of the actual crime suffered from? This type of information regarding the accused could very well be a deciding factor on whether or not he or she receives the death penalty, or will be admitted into a mental hospital. Of course only 35 states currently have people on death row (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012) but, other fates of punishment do await the guilty; this includes the sentence of life without the possibility of parole

Mental Illness is an issue not only for the medical personal, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc..., who seek to cure those that are mentally-ill, but it is also an issue for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Judicial Branch of the United States Government. The problem posed with the DOJ and the Legislature in regards to the mentally ill is that they do commit crime but more over how, once the crime is committed and they are in custody, get treated; are they treated like a common criminal or is their condition unique to the DOJ that the realm of treatment in regards to the mentally ill is not yet clear?


Ancestors of olden times had a belief that spirits, the devil, or some form of demonology or demonic inhabitance of the human body was what caused mental illness. Pre-dated episodes with mental illness of the human in ancient civilizations which had a "magico-religious" view on mental illness and considered mental illness an abnormality which was caused by the possessed powers of good or evil spirits (Biggs, 1955). An early written encounter discussing mental illness (or insanity) and the associated disorders was written by Ebers Papyrus of Egypt in 1559 B.C.; he said that mental illness has a dependency on evil spirits (Biggs, 1955). The Greek philosopher Pythagoris in where he described mental illness to disorders in the brain (Biggs, 1955). In fact Biggs (1955) also mentions that the Greek philosophers considered the blind and deaf mentally (pg 50). Biggs (1955) writes about another early encounter of mental illness -assuming that the bible is in fact written history- chapter 5 of St. Mark talks about being possessed by demons (pg 15). Much of history involving the mentally ill criminal told solely of being possessed by a spirit. It wasn't until later that that people thought of the mentally ill as being sick by something other than demonic possession.

Biggs (1955) says that during Mohammed and the Mohammedan laws is the first written documentation where literally "[w]ithout the concept of demoniacal possession as the cause of mental illness, it is not surprising... what may be the earliest definite provision that an unintentional killing or murder by a minor or lunatic was considered involuntary manslaughter" (pg 39). Pythagoras "attributed mental disease to disorders of the brain" (Biggs, 1955) claiming that the brain was a central organ (Biggs, 1955). Wortley (2011) mentions that Franz Gall in the late eighteenth century developed the phrenology theory "which proposed that personality could be assessed by reading the bumps on an individual's head..." (pg 69). The Brain greatly contributes to the behavior of the human intellect, it is part of the nervous system and controls all psychological, behavioral, and physiological aspects of human beings.

Today mental illness is viewed as a DOJ issue this type of action moving away from treating the mentally ill instead to punishing them is a movement is societies social construction and how they perceive the crimes of the mentally ill.(Erickson & Erickson, 2008). Wortley (2011) continues that what is a crime today tomorrow may not be a crime at all, so the definition of crime also vary (pg 4), [including crimes committed by the mentally ill]. Wortley (2011) also mentions In England the age limit to engage in sexual intercourse with a minor is 16 but historically it has been as low as 12 (pg 4). In fact the sexual assault/ rape account for 43% where the victim is the child (Wortley, 2011). Wortley (2011) goes on to add that it is because of an evolutionary theory of sexual prowess as the most dominant of forms amongst males (pg 33 - 34).

Following World War Two many patients in mental hospitals were moved out and placed back into society (Torrey, 2008). Torrey (2008) goes on to write that during a recent study of eighty-one United States cities showed a direct relation with the mentally ill and homelessness, incarceration, and crime (pg 2)


Wortley (2011) discusses Lombroso's early attempt at explaining mental illness through evolution who coined the mentally ii as being homo delinquens or a subspecies of human and went so far as to take the measurements of skulls of prisoners to prove this theory (pg 22). It was later reputed when Charles Goring failed at recreating this theory (Wortley, 2011). There is not one clear example or definition of what exactly defines mental illness. The closest description society uses today is from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) fourth edition:

“A clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress...or disability...or with a significant increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom. In addition this syndrome or pattern must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one. Whatever its original cause, it must currently be considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual. Neither deviant behavior... nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.”

Richard J. McNally, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University words mental illness in this definition; where "mental disorders are behavioral or psychological syndromes, clusters of co-occurring symptoms, which cause significant distress or interference with a person's ability to function in everyday life, or both" (McNally, 2011). McNally (2011) also notes that psychiatric experts claim that mental illness are [merely] diseases in the brain (pg 128).

Certain States restrict the insanity plea due to the DSM which does not recognize "insanity" as a diagnosis (Erickson & Erickson, 2008). Erickson and Erickson (2008) writes that Pennsylvania views insanity as a "defect of reason", or "disease of the brain", this type of diagnoses would surely turn a criminal over to the DOJ, but rather he or she should go to the mental hospital (pg 2).

Criminals who show no remorse for their victims demonstrate the mental disorder antisocial personality disorder (Erickson & Erickson, 2008).

The American population suffers from some form of mental illness in their lives and nearly one-fourth of Americans suffered from it in the last twelve months (McNally, 2011). Prisoners or people incarcerated are no different than those on the outside suffering from the same mental problems. More than half of prisoners are diagnosed with a mental disorder (Erickson & Erickson, 2008). Female inmates have a higher rate than male inmates, and white inmates have a higher rate than African American inmates (Erickson & Erickson, 2008). The number incarcerated with mental illness have under most circumstances experienced physical or sexual abuse at home or in foster care.

According to the DSM someone with "Antisocial Personality Disorder...(APD) disregards the rights of others, and violation of, the rights of others" (Association, 2000). They are constantly in and out of jail, accused of committing acts against the norm of society, vandalism, deceitfulness to get what they want, physical assaults, they act on spur of the moment and sometimes forget to act on important things ending in neglect of a child as an example (Association, 2000). APD usually begins in childhood and persists into adulthood (Association, 2000) where some criminologist have focused on life-course persistent (LCP) who commit frequent act over a long time (Wortley, 2011). LCP offenders show early signs of APD through their antisocial behavior when they are kids (Wortley, 2011).

Future problems of giving the classification that someone, specifically a criminal, a diagnosis of being mentally unfit is that they may and attempt to play the insanity card to beat the system (McNally, 2011). Other issues surrounding the classification of disorders are those which according to the DSM meet the necessary criteria to have a disorder however they do not necessarily suffer from their disorder (McNally, 2011). McNally (2011) points out that pedophiles suffer from a dysfunction in mechanisms of sexual attraction so even though they "suffer" it is more their victims who really suffer (pg 88).

Our outcome should not be to punish the mentally ill but to treat them instead. Richard Wortley, Professor at University College London serving as the Director of the Jill Dando Institute for Security and Crime Science writes about psychological criminology which helps to identify and treat mental illness before it happens and after it becomes an ongoing issue (Wortley, 2011). Treatment for mental illness, once diagnosed and in prison starts with the prison psychologist who determines if the prisoner may pose a threat once returned in mainstream society (Wortley, 2011).

The medical model on mad/bad debate refers to criminals who have been sick and must be cured, they are not normal and so pathologically they need to be treated (Wortley, 2011). Wortley (2011) continues on referencing Sigmund Freud's theory that "crime arises from unconscious psychological conflicts deep within the individual, and offenders are rarely aware of true reasons for their offending" (Wortley, 2011, pg 11).


Wortley (2011) mentions control theorists who say that crime is a lesson of control that some criminals lack (pg 12-13).

Crime-focused evolutionary approaches see crime as embedded in human evolution that at some time were considered the norm but today are illegal, and regardless of its state of legalese some criminals cannot refrain from it (Wortley, 2011).


According to Darwin evolution is part of natural selection

The Automatic Nervous System (ANS) which is the nervous system for thing such as heart rate, breath, i.e. automatic actions and reactions of the human body well has been found to have three stages of which the ANS is found to be more responsive (Wortley, 2011). But Wortley (2011) goes on to write that the re-activeness of the ANS is much slower in offenders (pg 73).

The brain scans of criminal offenders show abnormalities when compared to non-offenders (Wortley, 2011). For instance using a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan on convicts and non-convicts studies show that there is a definite abnormality in the right temporal areas of the brain, and it was smaller in the left temporal and frontal area of the brain (Wortley, 2011). Wortley (2011) writes about another scan, the positron emission tomography (PET) scan which finds that in ant-social and violent offenders there are definite abnormalities (pg 78 - 79). There are also other scans which show similar abnormalities in a convict, with mental disorders; abnormalities inside their brain.

One plea brought to light in the face of the court by those seeking to be mentally ill, also known as having a mental or behavioral disorder is the "insanity plea." This plea of insanity which the accused sometime -though rarely- seek is mainly used to garner a lesser sentence (Blau, 1984). Blau (1984) writes that even though a defendant may seek the insanity plea, the case is usually they too, rarely do they succeed (pg 8). Sometimes when the defendant has won the insanity plea than the sentence handed down is to the mental hospital, or mental ward of the prison. The insanity defense is heavily weighed upon psychiatric or psychological testimony completed by professionals with in those fields (Blau, 1984). One popular test administered to rule out if the accused is insane or not is the M'Naghten Rule, a right-wrong test (Blau, 1984). The M'Naughten Rule gives no wrong to the guilty if they at the time of the crime did not know it was wrong (Blau, 1984).

A big issue with the mentally ill as it correlates to criminal activity, murder, rape, assault, etc... is that half of the individuals walking the streets with a mental disorder have at some point in their life been institutionalized (Torrey, 2008). E. Fuller Torrey, president of the Treatment Advocacy Center, executive director of Stanley Medical Research Institute, and the former special assistant to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health reports the problem of mentally ill patients by the numbers, as of 2008 when Torrey authored the book "The Insanity Offense", there were 4,000,000 severely affected people in the U.S. with a mental disorder which included schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychosis, and depression with psychosis (Torrey, 2008). Torrey (2008) identifies other number related to the original number; 400,000 are the real issues, they are homeless, incarcerated, victimized, and/or violent and without medication are extremely problematic (pg 6). The other number, 40,000 are the most threatening and violent; however on medication can live amongst the community (Torrey, 2008).

Three individuals, John Wilkes Booth, Charles J. Guiteau, and Leon F. Czolgosz share the same commonality in crime, all three assassinated different Presidents of the United States of America; Booth Killed Lincoln [April 16, 1865]; Guteau killed Garfield [shot July 02, 1881, died 19 September 1881]; and Czolgosz killed Mckinley [1901] (MacDonald, 1961).MacDonold (1961) continues on with the assassins of the three Presidents, and MacDonald adds that all three murderers were sick with either psychotic delusions or schizophrenia; Guiteau however was executed as a sane man but was determined afterwards by two psychiatrist that he too was schizphrenic (pg 50 - 53).

"In England 30 per cent or more of murderers are found insane compared with less than 5 per cent in the United States" (MacDonald, 1961).

Ordinary citizens have to be careful when dealing with people with mental illness because a lot of times they choose not to take their medicine and can slip back into their psychotic stages. The mentally ill will sometimes target physicians as their targets for three reasons (1) doctors who have placed them into a mental care facility, i.e. hospital; (2) hypochondriacs -those who think their sick, but really not; and female patients who are sick with feeling of lust towards their doctor and will stop at nothing to get them (MacDonald, 1961).