The Paradox of Criminal Justice Vs. Mental Illness

Pandy asked about 3 hours ago ·
Is it ok for murderers to escape prison time based on ‘mental derangement’?

The whole “getting off for being crazy” thing is a dilemma that gets right into the heart of our crazy ethics and shows the paradox of it all. We judge and condemn someone for doing bad things when they do it of sound mind, but we don’t when we believe their behavior is influenced by a mental illness. But there’s no clear defining line between being sane and being deranged. It’s a multifaceted/multidimensional continuum. And when does being “deranged” stop being something that afflicts someone as if influencing from the outside and start being an accountable, integral aspect of the person’s personality itself that makes him/her ‘evil’? And one could easily make an argument that to do a really heinous crime necessarily means that someone is deranged, and that therefore nobody should be punished for any crime that’s beyond a certain degree of evil.

This also gets into the important issue of whether punishment is supposed to be retribution or mere protection/determent. If someone’s liable to kill people and you punish them or don’t punish them based on what you think is going on inside their mind, then you’re clearly defining punishment as being about retribution. But as shown above, it’s not clear when someone is to blame or not to blame for their actions. One could even imagine that anybody who ends up having the personality necessary to commit any given crime became that way due to a series of unfortunate causes, and that therefore nobody is ever to blame for anything. It’s also easy to imagine that if you were in some criminal’s exact shoes—their DNA, their circumstances, everything that ever happened to them (including in past lives), and everything—then you could have easily chosen to do the same thing they did.

And we blame/condemn someone when we believe they did something out of their own free will and not when they had no choice, but yet we believe scientifically that everything either has a determined cause, or is absolutely random, or is some admixture of both. So our own metaphysics (for those who subscribe to the scientistic/academic establishment) precludes the possibility of anyone having any real choice in the matter.

The really odd thing about making punishment about retribution by not punishing people for being mentally deranged is that it makes punishment only about retribution and nothing more practical, like protection of the public or deterrence from crime. Because even if you don’t morally condemn someone who’s a murderer for whatever reason, such as mental derangement, then protection of other people, if nothing else, would call for the incarceration of that murderer. A philosophy/system of punishment without any kind of retribution involved should probably still incarcerate people for the above reasons, yet because system our system apparently involves retribution, we’ve excluded all of the more practical concerns altogether.

Of course, the mentally deranged murderer may be sent to a mental hospital for life instead of prison, and that kind of solves the problem of protection (maybe not so much for the other inhabitants and staff of the mental hospital; and maybe not so much if they get let out after a short time), but then that just raises the question of why not be nicer to all murderers or criminals in general and send them to hospitals instead of prison if that’s such an effective and practical solution, or at least make prisons a much nicer and less violent place. So the fact that the person may be sent to a mental hospital instead doesn’t change the fact that we’re basing punishment on retribution alone to the exclusion of other concerns, at least to some degree.

To directly answer your question, though, I think that every criminal should be given the least possible punishment necessary to protect the public, whether or not they’re mentally deranged.


Here’s a relevant article: Part of it says, “The spirit of the law is that responsibility for a crime is reduced when a defendant’s cognitive ability is compromised by illness or injury,” but if brainstate causes mindstate, as widely believed, then any disposition that leads to a crime is comprised of some state in the neural network… so what’s the big difference whether that state comprises an injury or was caused by something else?

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