Mental Illness and Criminal Behavior

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Mental illness and Criminal Behavior
Mental illness and insanity defenses have remained highly controversial topics throughout history. You may have heard of John Hinckley, the man who shot and killed President Reagan, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was instead sent to a psychiatric institute. Some would argue that mental illness is a disease that should be treated as such and that it inhibits an individual from distinguishing right from wrong, while others would argue that “the issue of right and wrong should not be the guiding principle to determine sanity” (Paqeutte). Many medical professionals study these types of diseases to determine whether or not this makes criminal behavior more likely in a mentally ill individual. It is reported in one study that 83% of mentally ill individuals in a group of 203 were found to have had contact with the legal system (Clark). This debate boils down to the question: Should a mentally ill individual receive treatment or punishment for committing a crime that requires him or her to make a choice between right and wrong and act as such?

One nurse argues that our legal system today “makes no allowance for the complexity of mental illness,” and goes on to argue for the “more humane treatment of the mentally ill” (Paquette). She goes on to speak of the process by which a verdict is reached and states that “the jury isn’t told that if it finds the person insane, the person won’t be released but sent to a psychiatric hospital until he or she is judged to be sane” (Paquette). Also mentioned in this article is the case of Andrea Yates, a woman who drowned her five children in the family bathtub, which sparked a very public debate about mentally ill individuals who commit crimes such as this are sentenced. Yates’ defense lawyers presented evidence that she had a past history of “mental illness, suicide attempts, depression, and… hospitalization”, and was “overmedicated, prematurely discharged from the...
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