Due Process is an exalted principle, but for people with severe brain function illness, it most often fails to deliver moral justice. The entire apparatus of due process is engineered to punish clinical insanity. Insanity, as in NGRI, has become a radical notion…because the law has inauthentically defined it.
Insanity, as defined and conceptualized under M’Naghten’s Rule or the jist of it in other definitions of “insanity” are all figments of human intuition and imagination. Severe brain function illnesses that cause clinical dysmentation and disordered states of consciousness (the neurological condition known as “psychosis”) have something to tell us about ourselves but ancient and intuitive beliefs about good and evil cause us to spurn this notion. Pathologies of the human body can be natures way of teaching us something about ourselves as human beings that we can never understand in absence of the presentation of illness…they can open up a portal to insight and understanding. A scientific and moral definition of insanity is not a matter of “knowing right from wrong” in the sense that human beings have defined it. The law must not lean to its own understanding…it must defer to medical science.
Conventional wisdom asserts that the broken mental health system and mass reductions in hospital beds are reasons why our jails and prisons are filled by hundreds of thousands of people with serious neurobehavioral illness – that correctional facilities have become de facto mental hospitals.
The criminal justice system operates under the law and nothing forces its hand. Even though a critical shortage in supported housing and a dysfunctional system of healthcare delivery is a tragically serious problem – and the states are fully accountable for their failures that deliver people into the hands of the criminal justice system, the criminal justice system is accountable for its own actions. The pressing of charges, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing are the exclusive cause for the mass incarceration of people with severe neurobehavioral illness. Jails and prisons are not de facto mental hospitals, advocates should not use this expression even in a figurative sense. These are institutions where human beings are sent to be punished. Legislators and Justices of even the highest court do not understand neurobehavioral illness in general and “psychosis” in particular…yet they do not respect the authority of competent medical doctors.
From The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, “Forensic Psychiatry and Political Controversy:
“As clinicians we should articulate a collective view about what treating the mentally disordered justly and appropriately in the legal system would mean, and we should challenge the law when it fails to achieve this.”
…And this passage from the same article:
“We might remind ourselves of how forthright our 19 century forebears were in criticizing the law when they thought it failed to achieve justice for the insane.”
The least blameworthy of all accused persons are being convicted and punished unjustly because their neuropsychiatric disorders are beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of the populace – and because the predominant definition of insanity, M’Naghten’s Rule is dissonant with neuroscience. M’Naghten’s Rule is a dangerous legal instrument in the hands of jurors, prosecutors, and judges who profoundly misunderstand neurobehavioral illness. This nation cannot call itself great while this carnage of unjust conviction and punishment continues.
“Knowledge is essential to understanding and understanding should precede judging” …Justice Louis Brandeis