Should Mental Illness Be Taken Into Account in Determining Punishment?

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The penal system has been no help in alleviating the stigma attached to mental illness, routinely and historically treating mentally unstable inmates with just the same harsh approach as their criminally insane counterparts. Indeed, the distinction between these two populations is significant; however, authorities have long been reluctant to entertain such a concept. Similar to the treatment availed to them in institutions, mentally ill inmates have a history of being shackled, beaten and deprived of the most basic human needs. One might readily argue how state and federal penitentiaries exist for one reason and one reason only: to lock up the criminal and throw away the key. The conspicuous absence of rehabilitation programs speaks to the attitude society openly harbors about its convicted felons – keep them out of sight forever. Only recently has the idea of rehabilitation over incarceration been considered throughout contemporary correctional institutions as an alternative toward addressing the imprisoned mentally ill, a population many believe are deserving of this option because of their blatant lack of free will in making morally responsible choices. The perpetuation of criminal activity, coupled with the severely limited resources availed to the state and federal criminal justice system, has made it almost compulsory for the penal system to implement comprehensive mental health programs not only to help alleviate prison overcrowding but also to rescue those inmates who do not belong in the penal system. Most people like to think that human beings possess free will, at least with regard to a wide range of actions. In contrast, however, some believe that certain people lack the aspect of free will. Many great theorists have contended that the reason some people may, indeed, lack free will is not so much due to the determined nature of their choices and behavior, but rather due to the fact that their behavior is not responsive to their choices in such a manner as to reflect those who do possess free will. When examining this viewpoint in further detail as it relates to mental illness playing an integral role in punishment, it is important to consider whether or not an individual can truly possess free will while at the same time having one's choices and behaviors determined by a greater force, as well. When one attempts to distinguish the principle essence of such theorists as David Hume, it is essential that one understand the difference between free will and determinism. When one is cast forward by way of determinism, it is as though one has absolutely no control over the various and sundry occurrences that take place during one's life. Free will, on the other hand, speaks to the concept of having full authority over one's aspirations and ultimate direction, reflecting the exact opposite of those ruled by determinism. Having grasped the difference in meaning, the student may then want to argue that Hume's position was more than significantly biased toward the concept of determinism. One might readily surmise how an individual whose life is ruled by determinism could realistically become void of any moralistic tendencies, inasmuch as one can claim that responsibility for any action would not fall upon the individual but rather the fateful path his is forced to follow. The manner in which this concept relates to Hume's radical principle is such that one might not be compelled to fight his own destiny, choosing instead to follow a path that is not always pristine and virtuous. The message that Hume is trying to convey is one of responsibility – all man's ideas come from impressions of things that have occurred before. Contrarily and without assuming responsibility for one's own actions in light of this assertion, the world would be nothing if not a jumble of adulterated confusion. By acting upon a basis of Hume's principle, one effectively relinquishes all accountability for his actions and – in the case...
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