Illness, crime and punishment

150px-speck1966 (Photo of Richard Speck who after killing 8 nurses on a single night in 1966 tried to defend it on base of an inherent genetic abnormality XYY)

I met a boy at the hospital. He had fever and ensuing encephalitis at the age of around 12 years. Encephalitis affected the frontal lobe of his brain.
After recovering from encephalitis his behaviour gradually started to change. He became more and more disinhibited. He would be often seen on the road side talking to girls in provocative language. He would talk with lot of sexual nuances.
He would appear cheerful all the time. He would repeatedly visit relatives who had daughters in their house. Even the ones with little girls. He would be very friendly with them and would visit the girls in schools or colleges with gifts. His sexual advances wouldnot spare even his mother and sister.
He would go off to parties in which he was not invited. He visited prostitutes. He was often beaten up too.
He developed a fascination for another relegion and started to read about it extensively.
He ran away from home at multiple occassions. Often he would come back beaten up and dishevelled. He would steal and beg for money. He would sweet talk tourists for money. He was twice arrested due to complaints by girls.

Finally he was taken to a doctor. And he was diagnosed with Frontal lobe syndrome which presents with the kind of symptoms mentioned above.

The question is- if he is arrested after molesting a girl or stealing something is he punishable?
According to McNaughten’s rule a mentally ill person is not liable for his actions if he was not able to judge the consequences. But for this he will have to prove that he was insane at that point of time when he committed the crime. The onus is on him.
But a person with frontal lobe syndrome is far removed from being psychotic. So naturally he is punishable because he knows the consequences of his actions.
But… a normal individual committing a crime and a diseased person committing a crime because he has more innate tendency and increased drive to do it… are they the same? For example people with an extra Y chromosome are said to be more sexually aggressive.
But if one says that some one who has a biological predilection for committing crimes should be given concession, an interesting corrundrum arises. A supposedly normal person who commits a crime may be having some underlying biological deficits that are undiagnosed.
And where does ‘individual responsibility’ begin? A person with antisocial personality disorder either had some genetic tendencies for developing it or his early environmental influences modelled his antisociality. Either way he is not directly responsible for his increased ‘crime drive’ as both genetic and environmental influences are not under his control.
So where does it lead us to? Does punishment make any sense?

This throws up some interesting questions about crime and punishment. Punishment is always arbitrary. Punishing someone who had committed a crime is essential for maintaining a society stable. But one should never mistake it with justice. Justice only happens when effects of a particular crime is reversed. And only if one can judge whether a person’s ‘soul’ is really corrupted.
But punishment is just ‘an eye for an eye.’ It really is not concerned about the victim but only whether the perpetrator causes further damage or not.
So human laws and punishment is not really about ‘being just.’ Its just about self preservation as a society. We should have no delusions about the incorrigibility about it.


7 thoughts on “Illness, crime and punishment

  1. I don’t really think that I am qualified to talk on this, but I’ll offer my two cents on the topic.

    I think the purpose of all punishment (prison in matters of crime) should be reform and a person with psychological abnormalities will not be having the possibility of reforming himself.

    But, I also don’t think that someone who has a XYY abnormality should be left in the open to abuse girls. It’s not right.

    One way of stopping this would be to administer him with hard drugs which numbs his mind and thus negating the damage that he may do to the society.

    Also, you said,
    “A supposedly normal person who commits a crime may be having some underlying biological deficits that are undiagnosed.”

    Yeah, I agree. But then a lot of things in this world are not perfectly comprehensible. Dynamics of Human Mind being one of them.

    And, if everything were to morally and ethically correct, this would be a somewhat utopic world. It is far from it however.

    1. I agree with you that its difficult to reform a person with some biological abnormality. But even individuals with antisocial personality disorder are tough to reform. How many criminals are actually reformed by the system?
      Regarding using hard drugs I think it would be too inhumane.

  2. It’s inhumane, agreed. But, we can’t let that guy stay in the real world. He is too dangerous. So the only two options that I can think of is prison or drugs. What’s more inhumane of the two?

    My opinion is that if your mind thinks in a manner that leads to the doom of others… It’s better to keep it quiet. And even though I am not a medical expert, I have seen mentally ill people who look pretty normal after taking drugs. It may be inhumane but it’s good for the society.

    As for criminals being reformed, I agree with you. But, then the education system is meant to infuse maturity in people. To make them look at life with keener eyes. To make them go deep into things and strengthening them enough that they don’t judge things on their face value. How many students actually attain that?

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