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Saving the Mentally Ill: Ethical Judicial Reform

The plights of the mentally ill have been seen across various cultures throughout the historical tale of humanity. The imposed consequences of society on individuals demonstrating deviant behavior, often considered to be mentally ill, range from punishments as light as a ticket or fine and ranging to incarceration or even execution. The question remains for society today, are extreme punishments such as incarceration or execution rational solutions in regard to the treatment of mentally ill people who break the social norms of safety?

Figuring out how best to deal with the fringes of society often called criminals but better termed mentally ill people is question which has no doubt been with humanity for a very long time.

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However, it is a justified opinion to state that mentally ill people are indeed worthy of better treatment than incarceration or execution. Despite the sometimes harmful behaviors of mentally ill individuals, there are better actions to take in the bettering of human society than to punish the most tormented and fragile members of society.

A very important positive aspect of allowing mentally ill offenders to engage in the care of psychological treatment rather than being locked into the government judicial system and jails is simply being able to look at an offender with compassion and the hope of recuperation rather than with scorn and the desire to maltreat the offender. Jailing and execution, even minor fines, is simply an evil act in response to an evil act. The basic lesson that two wrongs don’t make a right is an ethical foundation that most people learn in their toddler years—to treat a neighbor as one would like to be treated.

In punishing the mental ill, sometimes to the extreme of murdering them through execution, humanity only demonstrates a desire for revenge and a lack of patience. Although some states, for example Virginia, bar the execution of the mentally retarded, there is still widespread resistance to barring the execution of the mentally ill, and currently only Connecticut prohibits this act of injustice (Slobogin). Clearly, there is still widespread resistance to both understanding the sick actions of individuals as well as working cooperatively to try to aid these poor people.

One has to wonder where the line is drawn between the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, and the insane, and what these terms mean in regard to aiming to define civil justice. Although some states have prohibited the execution of mentally retarded people, the Supreme Court has barred the execution of insane persons, but not of mentally retarded persons (Miller). In psychological diagnoses of mental illnesses, there is no concrete wall drawn between the mentally retarded and the mentally ill, and the term insanity is not even used professionally.

Although psychosis may be what the courts refer to in regard to insanity, there is still no hard and fast line drawn between people exhibiting psychosis and those exhibiting neurosis. These people are all considered to be mentally ill. However, in considering the idea of just punishments for any individual, healthy or ill, it is important to not the hypocrisy and paradox involved even in the term just punishment. Is there ever a good maltreatment or a necessary evil?

A rational person would have to say no. Forgiveness, understanding, and comprehensive rehabilitative treatment are necessary for all offenders. Society should offer this to the offenders precisely as an example of what it means to not offend, an extension of humane wisdom and goodwill. In viewing the experiences of the mentally ill individuals who are incarcerated, it is disquieting to note the extreme punishment received in modern jail settings.

As if being forced to live in a tightly enclosed and barred setting for multiple year or even lifelong sentences were not enough of a crime against humanity, many mentally ill individuals who are incarcerated or on death row experience further injustice in jails by the high rate of occurrence of injury and death, the inappropriate use of force by personnel, and the release of mentally ill people from jail who have received little to no psychological treatment (Erickson & Erickson).

On a smaller and perhaps more easily identifiable scale, it’s like experiencing a puppy who chews furniture and deciding to kick the dog or put the dog in a cage rather than allowing the puppy the natural environment of a caring owner with a yard or countryside for free roaming. The offender may need to be enclosed in a safe area, but the treatment administered to the offender for humane recuperation would not be physical torture or a tiny cell, it would be person centered health care in an environment tailored to meet the sensitive needs of the sick individual, helping them wholeheartedly on the short or long path to better living.

In regard to changing the way courts view mentally ill people when they commit offenses against humanity, it is important to note not only the voices of judges, psychologists, and lawyers in their aim to provide the best situation for the offender, but to value the wishes of the offenders themselves. Luckily there is an increasing interest in mentally ill people as well as their clinicians to choose their own health care plans and service providers.

By viewing mentally ill offenders as needing social help rather than punishment, society can also offer these individuals choices in the steps toward their recuperation. In allowing for a mediation process by which the offender and societal representative, such as a government counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist, can come to an agreement about the terms by which the mentally ill individual will engage in a process of ongoing health care, the court system may be able to reduce the need for more formal and expensive court process and reduce the costs associated with involuntary care (Fleischner).

It is also valid to consider the desires of the offender who wishes to be released without care. In truly believing that two wrongs don’t make a right, it may be prudent to invest consideration in the option of allowing for the immediate release of offenders who wish to be freed without treatment. Although this action may endanger society, it very well may not. The power of forgiveness is highly underestimated in many cases.

In aiming to administer justice, society has to consider what is just in every case, not only in some. If murder is wrong, then murder is wrong, not only in the case of the victim being murdered, but also in the case of the offender being murdered. If enclosing a person in a tight dark box is wrong for a parent to do to a child day after day, then it is also wrong for the government to do this to social offenders.

Anyone any person commits a crime against humanity, then the person committing the crime is sick, mentally ill and not thinking or behaving logically. When viewing the ill actions of offenders in a judicial process, one must also honestly view the ill actions of the judiciary. So many crimes are committed by the mentally ill, and many of the mentally ill people are not the ones receiving the sentence, but people who are ordering the sentences or standing on the sidelines in support in injustice.

Only when humanity opens its heart to all people in forgiveness and a sincere attempt to right wrongs will humanity be clean and delivered from her sins. No person deserved to be tightly jailed, left without health treatment, or cast out of society by even harsher means such as death. Ostracizing the weakest and most needy members of society only results in a crumbling of true ethics and suffering in hypocrisy. Democracy is empty without ethics, and arbitrating law means nothing when the law is empty of morality and goodwill.

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