Insanity and Criminality: Two Dilemmas

Suppose you were declared legally insane. Whether or not you have a mental illness does not really matter. Now suppose that during the course of your stay at an institution you are mistreated by the orderlies in any number of ways – starved, subjected to excessively harsh punishment, beaten, etc. Your experience, in short, is not a pleasant one.

You would not be entirely without recourse. You could complain to any number of the people managing the facility or you could petition the individuals or organization in charge of oversight. You could describe in detail to these people all the pains that have been inflicted on you. But who is likely to be persuaded? Those managing the facility are not surprised that you dislike being committed, and are naturally skeptical of anything you claim. After all, you’ve been officially declared insane. Those in charge of oversight are equally aware that an insane person is likely to say anything in order to be released. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which you notify the proper authorities only to have their fears put to rest by orderlies who deny any such incident took place. Your abusers declare that the bruise on your head is simply the result of your clumsiness brought on by heavy medication.

In a separate hypothetical, suppose you were accused of a crime and subsequently arrested. Whether or not you are guilty does not really matter. Now suppose that during the course of your arrest you are mistreated by the arresting officer – unnecessarily beaten, tased, etc. Your experience, in short, is an unjust one.

You would not be entirely without recourse. You could complain to the police chief or head of the department or you could petition the individuals in charge of oversight (i.e., a judge). You could describe in detail all the pains that have been brought upon you. But who is likely to be persuaded? Those managing the police force are not surprised that you dislike being arrested, and are naturally skeptical of anything you claim. After all, you’re officially suspected of committing a crime. The judge presiding over the police brutality case is equally aware that a criminal is likely to say anything in order to avoid fines or jail time (or even just to get revenge). It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which you follow all the correct legal procedures only to be told that, based on officer testimony, everything that took place was legal. The bruise on your head was simply caused by you hitting it on the frame of the patrol car while the officer tried to put you in the back seat. You shouldn’t have been forcefully resisting.

It should be clear how these two scenarios are related:  your “recourse” only takes place within a system entirely constituted by people whose job it is to manage your behavior. Once you are placed in the system, your credibility is automatically less than those who are paid to run the system.

Of course, in the second scenario you have another option – notifying the press. Also, in many cases there is surveillance video or a dash cam to provide further evidence in favor of you, the abused. The advantage of having these is that they appeal to a wider audience, as it were. The public at large can put pressure on the system to help you get the justice you deserve. But the portion of the public that is reached by such methods is in a similar position as those in charge of oversight. That is, the vast majority of people – for very good reasons – hold criminals in utter contempt. This is not a bad thing; it just means that the average person is likely to dismiss accusations brought against police as trumped up nonsense.  After all, who wants to publicly side with the criminals against the police? (How many times, for instance, was it repeated, “Rodney King deserved it”? While King certainly wasn’t an alter boy, one hopes that in their heart of hearts the majority of Americans still believe in a little something called “due process”).

The big difference here between the criminal dilemma and the insanity dilemma is that to be declared insane requires a legal proceeding; to be arrested does not. Therefore the potential for abuse is far greater under the authority of the State.

On the other hand, you might be suspicious of me and dismiss this argument as the product of a criminal mind. Why should I be worried about constraints on the police if I don’t have anything to hide? Didn’t I get a speeding ticket once?

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Comments

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