As we move into March, I am continuing to enjoy my final semester at the University of Leicester. I am very much enjoying both modules: Forensic Science and Criminal Justice, and Hate Crime. I look forward to sharing insights from these topics in future posts. For now, I want to take a look back at one of my Semester One modules as it is one of the most important topics of criminology: the relationship between mental disorder and crime. Specifically, is it appropriate to incarcerate mentally disordered offenders?
I suspect that for the majority of you, the initial answer will be yes. After all, if an offender commits a crime serious enough to warrant imprisonment, should they not be imprisoned irrespective of whether they have a mental disorder? If you commit a crime, should you not do the time?
For non-criminology students, I should point out that there is a significant difference between mental illness and mental disorder. The former is a temporary condition which can (usually) be eliminated over time. In contrast, a mental disorder is permanent. The impact of the disorder can be minimised but never completely eliminated.
The previous paragraph goes to the heart of the problem. If a crime was committed by someone with a mental disorder rather than a mental illness and the mental disorder is permanent, is it worth trying to punish or rehabilitate an offender (prison should do both)? Or, as the impact of a mental disorder can be minimised, shouldn’t society do everything in our power to treat the disorder? In other words, treat the offender in a mental hospital or the community rather than prisons which do not have sufficient resources to adequately treat the disorder?
An interesting article concerning prisons and mental health can be found at the following link:
One final thing to consider is the relationship between mental disorder and the offence. Did the mental disorder cause the offending or would the offender have committed the same offence even if he/she did not have a mental disorder?
You’ll notice that I have asked a lot of questions and have not answered the question I posed at the start of this post: is it appropriate to incarcerate mentally disordered offenders? I have deliberately not answered because I do not believe there is a right answer. There are strong arguments on both sides. What is your personal opinion?
Those of you that have enjoyed this post might be interested in the Issues in Clinical Criminology module as part of the BA / BSc Criminology degree here at the University of Leicester. I would also highly recommend the following book: Offenders, Deviants or Patients? written by Herschel Prins.