Should a Crime Affected by Mental Illness Be Treated Differently?

If only his mind were as easy to fix as his body. Han Nolan

National Institute of Mental Health

Please forgive the cut and paste nature of this post.  We had a little hiccup with the administrative feature of this blog.The spell checker is still not working so beware! I also have family in from out of town and time has slipped away. 

I want to continue the discussion on sin and evil as it relates to the tragedy in Newtown. Today I will throw out a few ideas for debate and will discuss the issues in more depth tomorrow.

Let me propose a scenario to you. Assume that there is a new virus which is highly contagious and about 95% fatal.There is no known cure. With ongoing research on biochemical weapons, this scenario is not so farfetched. Suppose your neighbor contracts this disease. Would your first response be that he is sinful? Of course not. However, should he be allowed to remain in the general population just because he is ill through no fault of his own? In fact, he will need to be quarantined  until a cure is found or he is no longer contagious.

The following is a true story.Link

 On Jan. 9, US Airways Flight 401 from Philadelphia to San Francisco had a pretty uneventful cross-country flight. However, a man on-board who had just been added to the Transportation Safety Administration’s “Do Not Fly” list still made it on board the aircraft, despite the fact that he has a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, a nasty airborne disease.

So, for approximately six hours, this still unidentified man, who knew he had a deadly bacterial infection, still boarded the plane, putting passengers and crew in jeopardy, droplets of his infected breath circulating in the confines of the cabin.

This man was eventually found, quarantined and the passengers tracked down and watched. Thankfully, the man, and all passengers survived. He said he needed to get home and was willing to risk others in order to do so. he made a sinful decision to put his needs over others. He should be tried and convicted for his wanton neglect for the safety of others. However, it was not his fault that he became sick.

Just because someone is mentally ill and is not delberately or knowingly doing evil, does not mean that he/she should be allowed to live in the general population. Unfortunately, we do not have a sufficent numebr of treatment facilites that are able to contain the dangerously insane. Even worse, we have limited means to actively treat and/or cure many forms of mental illness.  So, until we get serious about research into the causes and treatment of those afflicted, incarceration of the dangerously troubled will contune to be necessary to prevent them from hurting others. 

Also, I believe that it is appropriate to use lethal force, if necessary, to prevent a mentally deluded individual from harming others. I believe one reader said that they would not hesitate to shoot a person who was killing others, even if they were mentally ill. 

The point I am trying to make is this. The outcome for a mentally insane person is not significantly different from a criminal who makes a rational, sinful decision to hurt others. Our first priority is to provide for the safety of others. However, I do think it is important to diiferentiate between the mentally ill and the sane. One is to be offered treatment, if available, for their disability. The other is to be punished while hopefully coming to understanding of the error of his ways.I hope that one day we will find cures for those who have broken minds. 

I thought it might also be interesting to look at a couple of tragedies in other countries to see how they view mental ilness and crime.

1. The Dendermonde, Belgium nursery attack.Link

The Dendermonde nursery attack was a stabbing attack on the Fabeltjesland daycare centre in the village of Sint-Gillis-bij-Dendermonde in Dendermonde, Belgium, inJanuary 2009. 

He then entered one of the rooms and began attacking small children before moving up some stairs, where he continued in another room.[The man was reported to be wearing black and white makeup with his hair vividly coloured in red, similar to that of The Joker.

 A total of eighteen infants under the age of three and six adults were in the nursery at the time of the attack.Two infants and one adult were killed, six children, between one and three years old, were seriously injured, another four suffered minor injuries . that some of the surviving children have needed plastic surgery due to serious mutilations.[

De Gelder confided in his attorney, stating that he had been troubled by depression as a teenager and at one point heard voices in his head. Regardless, a psychiatrist had concluded that he did not need to be sent to a mental institution.

DeGelder is serving a prison sentance. There is no death penalty in Belgium.

2. Andres Breivik, Norwegian mass murderer. Link

 In a sequential bombing and mass shooting on July 2011, he bombed government buildings in Oslo, resulting in eight deaths, then carried out a mass shooting at a camp of the Workers' Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party on the island ofUtøya, where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers. He was convicted of mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism.

Two teams of court-appointed psychiatrists examined Breivik prior to his trial; in the first report Breivik was diagnosed with paranoidschizophrenia,and a second evaluation was commissioned following widespread criticism of the first report.The second psychiatric evaluation was published one week before the trial, concluding that Breivik was not psychotic during the attacks nor during the evaluation;he was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

 Oslo District Court found Breivik sane and guilty of murdering 77 people. He was sentenced to preventive detention.

Norway considers prison to be rehabilitative, not punitive and he will be eligble for parole when he is 53.There is no death penalty in Norway.

Both of these men had distinct psycholgical issues. But, in both cases, the local courts did not find their psychological issues precluded them from standing trial and being sentenced to prison. However, Norway will provide intensive counseling for Brevik.

I found both of these incidents applicable to the Newtown tragedy. All three men had significant psychiatric issues which had not been diagnosed or treated properly. It is evident that all nations have a long way to go in the understanding and treatment of mental illness.  Until we do, further tragedy is inevitable.

Finally, a post "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother-A Mom's Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America" Link is well worth the read. It chronicles one mother's struggle to rase a child who has an undiagnosed, serious mental illness. Once again, it is a story that leaves me praying that we will do more as a nation in dealing with mental illness. We have sent the Rover to Mars. Surely we can use our resources to help the hurting among us. The following is a short excerpt from this mother;s heartbreaking story.

A few weeks ago, Michael(13 years) pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan — they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

Lydia's Corner: Numbers 6:1-7:89 Mark 12:38-13:13 Psalm 49:1-20 Proverbs 10:27-28


Should a Crime Affected by Mental Illness Be Treated Differently? — 78 Comments

  1. Eagle

    I am not the worst sinner I know because I believe CJ Mahaney. He is the worst sinner he knows and, being a pastor and all, he should know. Now, all of his buddies and fanboys also say the same thing. Therefore, there are a whole bunch of people who are worst sinners since I am a trusting soul and I believe them. Then there are the Hitlers, Pol Pots, and Stalins.So, I figure I am starting up by about 3 million+ in terms of my actual sin ranking. I think I am goign to start a website, allowing people to compare themselves to CJ- the worst and me, coming in at about 3 million. We could then have a conclusive ranking system for where one falls in the “worst sinner” department. 

  2. For people without insurance, often the only way to get mental health treatment is to be convicted of a crime. And then the treatment is usually sub-par. Unless, of course, the state wants to execute someone. Then all the stops are pulled out to make the prisoner sane so s/he can understand his/her actions. There’s just something sick about that.

    This was one of those things which gave me a headache when I was in law school. That was over a quarter-century ago, and nothing’s been settled. *spreads hands* I have nothing…

  3. SW Disc – I hear you.

    Dee – I cannot imagine that Anders Breivik will (or even “can”) be rehabilitated. (Interesting that you didn’t post anything about his political and religious beliefs, as they seems to be very important to the crimes he committed.)

  4. Whether a criminal is sane or insane, they committed a crime and they should pay for the crime.

    An insane murderer is still a murderer. An insane thief is still a thief. And punishment for both should be exactly the same.

    It doesn’t matter that someone can be rehabilitated to never do whatever they did again, that is beside the point. They still committed the crime before. And that is the crime they are paying for, not future crimes.

    “You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.” -Lev 19:15

    Justice is blind.

  5. And just as an addon to my previous post, since I can’t edit it.

    “Should a crime affected by mental illness be treated differently?” is the wrong question to ask.

    The correct question to ask is “Why should a crime affected by mental illness be treated differently?”

  6. but if some is truly insane, they might not comprehend that they’re being punished, or even that they committed a crime.

  7. My understanding is that most psychiatrists would draw a distinction between mental illness (i.e. variants of schizophrenia and depression), personality disorders, and the range of autistic spectrum disorders (which are closer to cognitive disability) (although they often occur together). In particular some personality disorders (the psychopath of popular imagination) are difficult to label as “mad” rather than “bad”. From your examples the first seems very much in the former category. Breivik I think most Europeans would hesitate to label as mad. He was certainly not normal, but his abnormality is in the range of a Hitler or Stalin (perhaps particularly the former given his political positions) rather than a Peter Sutcliffe (serial murderer of sex-workers in Yorkshire in the 1970s who was undoubtedly suffering from schizophrenia and believed he was doing God’s work in murdering prostitutes).

  8. Differently than what?

    It is the way we treat “non mentally ill” criminals that need changing, not the other way around.

    All criminals should be treated with an eye towards rehabilitation and the possibility of returning them to society with a clean slate (no records following them).

    You would think that should be obvious, for the only other way to treat criminals is with a mindset of revenge, and eye for an eye. I would hope that we have grown out of that, if not on a personal level then at least officially as a society.

    I also think that if we should not posses the skills to restore a person to good mental health and find it necessary to keep them sequestered from society, that we should offer them the option of choosing to terminate their own lives, in as humane a manner as possible.

  9. Instead of our justice system declaring someone is innocent of a crime by reason of insanity, it should be, guilty, by reason of insanity.

    @JustSomeGuy….. really is justice so blind it makes no difference if a person is sane or not, intent ,motivation, circumstances, mean are to be totally disregarded? How can a poor soul who is delusional, has voices talking in their head, who literally sees things we don not (often as threats) be regarded in the same light as a cold blooded, calculating criminal?

    I think of the women in Texas who drowned her children back in 2001. She was suffering from severe PPD, husband kept getting her pregnant, (no help in childrearing) and she was teaching them at home because they were also mixed up in some ultra fundamentalist church group.She had severe mental health issues but received little medical help. in her delusional mind she was sending her children to heaven, so they would not be damned here on earth. Absolutely wrong thinking, wrong solutions but her mind was sick, not her heart.

    I don’t think the verse from Lev. is applicable in regards to the mental health of someone. It’s saying don’t let money, or lack thereof, be an excuse for letting someone off the hook … financial status is the issue, not mental health. And as a sidebar, in the OT law it was OK for a poor man to steal food if it meant his survival.

    Will there be those who feign insanity to get off from being punished for their crimes?…..for sure. But that doesn’t negate or excuse us from not becoming (as a society ) better skilled in identifying the various mentally ill conditions and knowing better how to treat those afflicted. As a society it’s necessary bring justice to the victims of all crimes.. How we dispense that justice (to the mentally ill) is what needs to be examined/determined better then it is now.

  10. JSG, let’s say someone has a known mental condition that is treated with medication that keeps them normal and thinking straight. Along comes someone with evil intent who replaces the medication with false medication that does nothing, and the person murders a bunch of innocents.

    Who is at fault? How is justice done by punishing the person who behaved with good intention? How does punishing that person prevent future violence?

    I think it is not so cut and dried, though I largely agree that when a person is hurt by someone with a mental disorder, the victim is still hurt and we cannot overlook this in our desire for justice.

    I think it’s a difficult question and the answer isn’t simple.

  11. Your article about the TB patient who flew cross country is similar to a story that has an Atlanta connection. A guy with TB was diagnosed, and still ended up leaving the country for his wedding. He was put on a list to not be allowed back into the country; instead, he went into Canada and at the border . . . the guard let him through because he didn’t look sick!

  12. The Anders Breivik case attracted a lot of attention (understandably) in Europe. I believe a judge was removed from the case because he let it be known that he thought Breivik should be hung for his actions.

    Breivik seems to be without doubt a fantasist, but then so were Hitler and Pol Pot, arguably men who were not so clinically deranged that they did not understand what they were doing.

    I’m not an expert on this, but I believe in Britain the position over the last 200 years or so has been that medical insanity may be some sort of defence but does not allow the offender to go free. In Victorian England there was a man who murdered his father. He was recognised as being insane so was spared the death penalty, but was incarcerated for the rest of his life in a mental institution (see

    Part of the problem of talking about mental illness and sin is that we should ask “which mental illness do you mean?”. As has been pointed out, there are a wide range of disorders from the early stages of depression to schizophrenia, the latter being hard to treat and causing severe suffering. Mental health professionals, as noted in example 1 of the Belgian killer, should be able to determine most of the time whether someone is using mental illness as a justification or whether they are genuinely affected, and to what degree.

    C S Lewis, in a short essay on forgiveness, opined that even if a sinful action could be 90% explained away by circumstances, that still left the 10% which was genuine sin that needed forgiveness. Obviously we will never know with dead shooters like Adam Lanza how much of it was illness and how much of it sin. The difficulty, sadly, is trying to decide this in the case of live perpetrators.

  13. Richard

    Good comment. I think the discussion of mental illness as it relates to horrendous crimes is long overdue. Unlike cancer, we cannot diagnose mental illness with a blood test but one would hope, if the Lord tarries, we will find specific tests for various disorders. I believe that, as time goes own, we will find that many mental illnesses that will have a genetic, epigenome, chemical/hormonal, etc.root. If so, there is always hope for treatment. Until then, we must limit the damage to the victims by diagnosing those who would pose a danger.

    The frustrating thing about this is it appears the mothers had been attemtping to get him help but the system is lacking by overwhelmed workers, a lack of well trained porfessionals and a dearth of institutions to place people BEFORE such events occur.

  14. Tina 

    I heard about that guy.Wasn’t he returning from Italy?  He was another selfcentered individual who was aided by a guard who had not been trained in a basic understanding of communicable diseases. It makes my point. Just because someone is sick, does not mean that they can be allowed to harm others.

  15. Jeff S

    I saw a show on TV in which a scenario like the one you described was played out. A man had been long controlled on his meds was taken off his meds by his brother who knew he would become violent. Basically he assaulted a woman and she dies of her injuries. The debate was how to prosecute the brother. In TV land, they did and he went to jail as an accomplice. 

    The answer is not simple. In fact it is deeply painful.

  16. Lin

    I like that. Guilty by reason of insanity. It shows said person committed the horror but also gives an understanding of the complexity of the problem.

  17. Southwestern Discomfort wrote:

    This was one of those things which gave me a headache when I was in law school. That was over a quarter-century ago, and nothing’s been settled. *spreads hands* I have nothing…

    No problems like that under Shari’a or Christian Reconstructionist Regimes…

  18. Just Some Guy

    As you can see, the outcome is the same. They are not treated differently. However, within the prison system, there needs to be intervention with anitpsychotics, etc. 

  19. First and foremost, we need to fix our system so that we commit these potentially violent individuals BEFORE they harm others.

    In the case of Adam Lanza, he would withdraw and shutdown completely. There was a time someone doing that could have been committed fairly simply.

    And by committed, I don’t mean just until meds are adjusted and you street them. So often once a mentally ill person feels better they stop the meds and decompensate drastically.

    Let’s focus on PREVENTING the crime in the first place.

    And God forbid, for those we miss, let’s be very sure they never hurt anyone again. Guilty but mentally ill, natural life sentence, to be served in a secure facility but with good treatment. Prison, secure state hospital, whatever, the point is to keep the rest of us safe and yet provide for them humanely.

  20. “You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.” -Lev 19:15
    Justice is blind.

    How then should Mary, the mother of Jesus, been treated according to the Jewish law? Likewise, are you and I being shown partiality by Jesus? What does “fairly” actually mean and how is it meant to be applied in real life? What did that scripture actually mean in that day and time?

  21. Many issues involved in this discussion.
    Our individualist view of things, ‘he did it then he pays’. But we didn’t help him prior by mis-diagnosis, failure to provide treatment options and other things; what is the responsibility of society in this?
    It sounds ‘good’ to have treatment facilities that prevent potentially dangerous individuals away from society. But what if that person would never have done anything violent? We have then taken away much of the potential of his life. Many medications also do this, the patient stops taking their meds so that they can feel something.
    Oh, an easy answer would be nice, eh?

  22. numo wrote:

    but if some is truly insane, they might not comprehend that they’re being punished, or even that they committed a crime.

    It doesn’t matter. They still committed the crime. Ignorance is not a get out of jail free card.

  23. When mental illness is revealed as a major contributing factor in the commitment of a crime, it should be factored in to our response. But when someone attempts to use mental illness as an excuse, in an effort to avoid prosecution, or as a means to escape accountability, or from assuming any responsibility when a degree of culpability has been established, then I think that points to either a mental or a moral motivation as a factor that needs to be considered as well.

    The young man who shot those children isn’t around to examine or question. What we do know is his mother owned some serious weapons, that she was aware her son was troubled, that she must have been aware of the time he spent playing violent video games, and that she was instrumental in him learning how to handle guns.

    That is what I find the most troubling.

    Plus, the young man killed his mother by shooting her multiple times.

    Sounds like it was an extremely toxic environment.

    And the fathers cluelessness? That’s a huge red flag, too.

    Sounds to me like he should have gotten help from someone and he was neglected. Not only that he was equipped to do what he did.

    I feel sad for the victims, but I ended up feeling sad for the kid, too.

  24. Bridget wrote:

    How then should Mary, the mother of Jesus, been treated according to the Jewish law? Likewise, are you and I being shown partiality by Jesus? What does “fairly” actually mean and how is it meant to be applied in real life? What did that scripture actually mean in that day and time?

    That is irrelevant to this discussion. We are talking about whether a criminal should be handed a different(usually lighter) sentence if they committed any criminal act while mentally ill.

    While that particular verse is part of the law, there are numerous sections of the bible in both old and new testaments about not showing partiality to anyone, especially in matters of justice.

    What did that scripture actually mean in that day and time? It meant:

    You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.

    I’m sorry if that bothers you.

  25. Give a reasoned case from scripture as to why a criminal justice system should punish mentally ill criminals differently than sane ones who have committed the same crime.

  26. What do you think about the role HOSTILITY played in all this.

    I think the shooter was filled with hostility. He had to have been. But what I found myself thinking about is the parents and their divorce. How hostile was it, and to what degree did the hostilities remain? The Dad had recently remarried. Was that the trigger?

    Hostility is a tough thing. There’s a place for it. When we react to evil & wrongdoing there’s a place for hostility. How do we as Christians take a stance. We want to be firm, but not hostile. God has called us to be peace, and to work toward making peace. But when both sides are unwilling to make ends meet, hostilities can erupt. And some people are fighters. They’re more comfortable with confrontation and dealing with things head on. Others think all hostility is wrong, period. We should never be or act out of hostility, even when hostility is the natural response.

    Anyway, thought I’d through that out there because I got to thinking about it.

  27. What can really bug me is when people, who have directly contributed to hostilities, tell you you’re being bitter if you have a reaction or take issue with what theyve done, know what I’m talking about?

    Sorry if this is off topic.

  28. As someone with family that is seriously mentally ill/developmentally challenged, I can tell you I would far rather lock up some who would never hurt anyone than miss an Adam Lanza or a James Holmes, or the sick young man who murdered and dismembered the young girl in Colorado this past fall. Hands down rather err on the side of caution.

    As to Adam’s mom and dad being able to afford secure treatment, yes, but legally they couldn’t force it. I’ve read she was in the process of gaining conservatorship so she could do so, and that may have been the trigger for the rampage.

    There is so much we can do to reduce the number of these incidents. We can get serious about treating brain disease in all of it’s forms. We can get serious about outlawing guns that shoot an incredible number of rounds a minute, and about the type of ammo Adam used and still leave sport shooting in rational hands.

    We can work to end our culture of death.

    For some that will be offering adoption and crisis pregnancy help to prevent abortions.

    For others it might be working at the soup kitchen, volunteering in scouting or other mentoring of young people. We can both engage and make a good place for the “different” in our society. And we can sometimes work to change that difference if it is detrimental to the individual and society. Sometimes we really do have to just let a person know if they want to be part of society there is a minimum level of reasonable behavior expected.

    Some may be called to be advocates/volunteers for the mentally handicapped and mentally ill.

    I dare say all of us could clean up our own personal act, stopping the culture of the angry cussing, fly off the handle, let’s soak our minds with violence in the form of movies, tv shows, music, and video games.

    Seriously, what WOULD happen if we took the Bible seriously, focused on what is right and good and lovely and true, stopped the whining and complaining and moaning about what is wrong and rolled up our sleeves doing good?

    What if we didn’t let our young men veg out in the basement on video games?

    (Check the stats on the % of young men post highschool and under 33 doing that in the USA today if you want to be flabbergasted!)

    What if we got our kids involved in the good deeds available rather than letting them practice shooting people vicariously?

    Sometimes I have this niggling suspicion part of our national mental health problem is that we don’t even recognize normal anymore, as we have steeped our hearts and minds in the abnormal so long it now seems normal.

    Yeah, I hope at least this summer’s tragedies move us off our backsides into changing things.

  29. Jeff S wrote:

    what is the reason we punish people for crimes?

    Brilliant question. I think in part answered by Fendrel earlier. Which strongly puts the spotlight on rehabilitation (or the lack thereof).

  30. Evie wrote:

    What can really bug me is when people, who have directly contributed to hostilities, tell you you’re being bitter if you have a reaction or take issue with what theyve done…

    I might be way off track with the intent of what you said, but it brought to mind that the ‘bitter’ accusation usually comes from Christians; not being positive enough is the more secular accusation (imo). Both would have it that you don’t own your feelings, especially the more uncomfortable ones. Whitewashed forced optimism is de rigueur.

  31. Not directly related with the ongoing conversation, as they don’t deal with criminal issues, but I found two BBC documentaries by Louis Theroux very helpful to gain a better understanding of people suffering mental illness and related problems, as well as what their families suffer and have to do to deal with it.

    Look for ‘Louis Theroux’ and ‘Extreme Love: Autism’ and ‘Extreme Love: Dementia’. You can sample a few clips in the following BBC page:

    I really like his documentaries. He has interviewed people from all sorts of backgrounds, some of them really bizarre, and he has a gift of making people be very open in front of the camera.

    I also need to say this: if you look for other documentaries from him, be warned that some deal with issues which may be considered inappropriate by some, and most of them are generally inadequate for children.

  32. Plain fact is there isn’t any “good answer” to all the collateral damage that the sin of Adam has sent through the human race. Man may think he’s up to the task of solving all the problems that stem therefrom, but as was true with the penalty for sin, man is simply not.

    We’ll struggle with this clear through the next coming of Jesus. Count on it.

  33. Haitch wrote:

    Both would have it that you don’t own your feelings, especially the more uncomfortable ones. Whitewashed forced optimism is de rigueur.

    “Hell has no torment worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
    — G.K.Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death” (Father Brown Mystery)

  34. I realise I’ve been off topic, apologies. So to continue that…

    Evie, your thinking out loud has got me thinking too. For starters, I have two niggling questions:

    What causes an adult to take the lives of young children who are absolute strangers to them?

    (to add to that, I think in addition to the impairment issue is also the notion of what is an adult in Western society. I don’t mean an adult in the legal sense).

    And a backwards type question. I’m not looking to prove causality, but asking a searching question – did crimes of this nature exist before video games/online games? I’m trying to think of any similar incidents say, pre-1980’s. Would it only be in wartime? (by crimes, I mean mass execution of children by one or more perpetrators)

  35. @ JustSomeGuy:

    What I said about Mary is relevant in light of the Scripture you quoted. You quoted a Scripture about justice. This particular post is about mental illness and punishment. The Scripture you quoted states nothing about mental illness at all. It seems to be dealing more with justice being executed fairly between the rich and poor.

    I don’t recall reading many scriptures about mental illness or how to deal with a person who might have mental illness. We deal differently with a 3 year old who steals something from a store than an 18 year old who steals. What is the difference in punishment based on? Might it be the ability to reason? If a person is mentally ill . . . is their ability to reason like others their age impaired?

    Your statements make justice, involved with mentally ill people who have broken the law, seem very easy and black and white. My questions were just that, questions. You make a huge assumption when you throw out the oft quoted statement, “I’m sorry if you have a problem with that.” Please don’t assume that I think “nothing” should be done. That is far from my thoughts.

    Jesus spent much time with people who were outcasts. He healed people who were considered a danger to themselves and society. Shouldn’t we do the same if we are able, by any means possible? In my thinking “justice and mercy” are two things that should never be separated. They balance the scale.

  36. Just Some Guy

    Let me try it this way. A man gets drunk and causes an accident. He is to blame for the accident and may receive jail time along with a suspended license and an inability to get driver’s insurance.

    A man is driving, has a heart attack caused by an undiagnosed problem. He rams another car. His insurance pays for the accident. He does not need to go to court. his insurance, upon receiving proof of his medical care, does not raise his insurance rates. 

    Why should we treat these two men differently? Should they both go to jail ?

  37. Linda said:

    “As someone with family that is seriously mentally ill/developmentally challenged, I can tell you I would far rather lock up some who would never hurt anyone than miss an Adam Lanza or a James Holmes, or the sick young man who murdered and dismembered the young girl in Colorado this past fall. Hands down rather err on the side of caution.”

    Linda, I am sorry but I couldn’t disagree more. In fact the foundation of any fair justice system is the concept of innocent till proven guilty. Not only are you advocating an unjust system, but how in the world would it be possible? Who decides who is sick enough to lock up, even though they have committed no crime? Do we lock up all mentally ill people? Just the the really bad cases?

    What could possibly be the justification for locking someone up before they commit a crime?

    This tragedy was absolutely devastating and we all wish it had been prevented it, but we can’t be tossing out folks freedom based on what they might do.

  38. Just Some Guy

    If someone on this blog believes that a point is relevant then we believe it warrants discussion. This is a blog, not a structured, collegiate debate team. In fac, I liken this blog as a discussion amngst friends.  

    Bridget is a faithful reader of this blog. If she thinks it is relevant, then it is. She is also a kind, thoughtful individual. Most likely, if she is concerned, so am I.

  39. A lot of mentally ill people do not mass murder people. I fear society going in a direction of believing all who commit such crimes are mentally ill. What then?

  40. Just Some Guy

    Pease try to dialog. Numo is a thoughtful individual. You say it doesn’t matter. You are not the final authority on the matter so dialog is warranted. As for ignorance of the law, I might contend thiat ignorance does not describe one who is mentally ill. Ignorance ofthe law is directed to people who claim that they didn’t know they had to pay state taxes on an internet purches. Therefore, they are subject to the triple penalty.

    Now, a blind man who drops his cane and accidently tumbles into the street against the light will not be convicted of jay walking.

  41. Anon1

    I do not believe that all people who mass murder are mentally ill. That is why I used Stalin as an example. That is the problem with this.There are no easy answers. My guess is that there are some people who are legitmately mentally deranged and many, many others who are not

  42. Bridget

    I believe that Just Some Guy knows the answers and if we do not agree, we are wrong and irrelevant. It must be nice to be so sure about such matters.

  43. Alright, I wanted to get an answer to why we punished before I answered, but I’m going to go ahead because I don’t have a great deal of time in the next few hours.

    In “Generous Justice” Tim Keller defines the word used in the Old Testament for “Justice” (Mishpat) as “giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care”. So the idea of “justice” means not just punishing the wicked, but elevating the oppressed, SACRIFICIALLY if necessary (God wasn’t kidding when he told his people to aid widows and orphans).

    So when it comes to justice for someone with a mental disorder, what are we talking about? Is this an individual who is “due” punishment, protection, or care? Well, would you not agree it is all three? And if we were offering proper protection and care, would in some cases punishment not ever be necessary?

    And this is why it is different than dealing with a non mentally ill person. The non mentally ill person is not “due” protection or care because those things are not necessary, at least not to the extent of the mentally ill person.

    And before some Calvinist jumps in and says we are all “due” hell before breakfast (remember, I AM a Calvinist), we are talking about how we treat one another as image bearers of God. The scripture commands over and over again that we give people their “due” (whenever the word Mishpat appears, which is a lot)- if all of humanity were only ever “due” hell, then God wouldn’t have commanded it. We aren’t to treat others as “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”- that description is between us and him. When it comes to how we treat our fellow man, justice is about our status as image bearers of God.

    The only argument for treating a mentally ill person and a non mentally ill person the same is if we believe that mental illness is not an oppressive state. If we believe that mental illness is oppressive, it is our duty as people of God to work to protect and care for those who have it.

    I don’t think that mental illness or a need for care negates punishment, but it certainly must play a part in the process of our mission to individuals as the body of Christ.

  44. Joey–who decides when someone is ill enough to commit?

    Realistically we found our own physician thought so, a panel appointed by the state thought so, and STILL the courts would not move.

    Only after a crime was committed was this person “committed” but still was in our care because a bed was not available.

    Make no mistake–serious mental illness requiring commitment is usually pretty obvious to the people around.

    There is a huge difference between sadness and bi-polar depression.

    There is a huge difference between being a little selfish and being psychopathic.

    There is a huge difference in being on top of the world and mania.

    There is a huge difference between being shy and becoming so withdrawn you cannot be reached or respond to another person as Adam Lanza did.

    So yes, when a person of any age has a history of psychotic breaks, or of threatening to harm themself or others, or of being strongly delusional or suffering from hallucinations either visual or aural, the professionals can judge this and we should be able to commit them.

    Example: not all mentally ill hear voices telling them to harm another person. But if a woman comes to her dr telling him she is hearing voices telling her to kill her baby, it is time to take action.

    Not every kid that has problems with relating to peers will hurt someone. But a kid who either withdraws into such a place that they do not respond to others at all, or who repeatedly expresses a desire to hurt the other people, or who posts messages that he or she dreams of killing them all is letting us know it time to act.

    Our courts indeed are to hold people innocent until proven guilty. But we are not talking innocence or guilt here. We are talking seriously disordered thinking or capable of rational thought and responsible action.

    There is pretty good evidence James Holme’s dr knew he was dangerous, hence his banishment from campus. Had she been able to interact meaningfully with the court system, he could have been held, evaluated, treated, and the Aurora theater shooting would not have happened.

    So which is better? LISTEN to the DOCTORS and protect the life and freedom of the people at the theater, or ignore them and clean up the carnage?

    Rest assured commitment will never be an easy process and will probably always require the judgement of a panel of psychiatrists.

    But we do need to revamp the privacy laws enough that when there is danger there is action.

  45. @Wendy, referring to my questions to all above, I just spotted your comments on the other thread about the female sniper, “I don’t like Mondays”. I don’t think video games were available during that time period. I’m like Southwestern Discomfort – spreads hands – I have nothing.

  46. Automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles and handguns weren’t widely available until recent decades – at least, not outside of the military and organized crime circles (including gangs like the Crips and Bloods).

    I have to say that I find the amount of violence in “action” movies to be both overwhelming and appalling – it seemed to start escalating back in the 80s (there was a big outcry in some circles over “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” for that very reason)… and as we have been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the amount of violence in movies and TV has – imo – greatly increased. It’s also far more realistic than it ever was back in the 70s and 80s. (Can’t speak to video games, since all I’ve ever played is slow stuff like solitaire.)

  47. Numo –

    Funny! Hope funny was intended. I’m not thinking solitaire would be considered a video game. Unless those moving cards could leap buildings and fight bad guys 🙂

  48. Bridget – yep, “funny” was most definitely intended! 😉

    I wish my cards and tiles *could* do amazing feats; it would make the games more fun.

  49. Bridget – I play computer solitaire, so yeah, it has some animation and technically qualifies as a video game.

  50. Dee –

    I was trying for dialoge on a very difficult issue that isn’t black and white. That was why I asked the questions to begin with. It seems to me that true justice is NOT blind at all, and to add the statement that “justice is blind” to the quoted passage is adding something that isn’t there. I also think it would be wrong to bring a verdict into someone’s life based in one passage and not consider the remainder all of Scripture.

    I like what Jeff said BTW.

  51. Evie – you’re not the only one that has felt sympathy for Adam Lanza…I could not hate what he did more, & yet I feel for a young man who appears to have had several different disorders which will have made him feel isolated & alienated from an early age. A high IQ may then have made him extra-aware of this, so on & so forth. He may so badly have wanted to be the ‘normal’ kids he thought his mother loved so much… I do feel for him as someone who has worked with some oddbod & loner kids, my heart goes out to them…they so badly need to connect & so feel they have an investment in their family, community & society. I think Marilyn Manson (of all people)puts his finger on something when he talks about these young people needing to be listened to. He also promotes an aesthetic of the grotesque, which allows many young people who have differences from their peers to find a culture in which they are celebrated, rather than tolerated, if that. Very very hard to be young & different, especially in today’s society.

    And I do think there is very definitely a difference between how we do, & how we should treat those who commit various offences but for very different reasons…Dee’s example of the drink driver is a prime one, killing someone in that state is a crime, but a man who has a heart attack at the wheel & veers into traffic killing someone is part of a tragedy, in which there was no volition of any kind. I think the idea of levels of responsibility is important, as is the idea of diminished responsibility in various circumstances. We’d have to talk about individuals though, to see how this worked in practice. How would we feel for example, if we found out at autopsy that Adam Lanza suffered from a brain tumour in the area of his brain dealing with emotion & volition? Probably quite different.

  52. Beakerj

    Very thoughtful and well said. If we value life at all then every life is valuable and tragic when needlessly lost. Those lives do not suddenly loose their value when they strike out at others.

    For me, there are only two reasons for incarceration, one is to protect society at large from individuals who pose a threat and just as important, it should be a place of therapy and when possible healing regardless of what crimes were committed.

    Unfortunately, at this place and time, it seems that incarceration is used as a place of punishment only, vengeance for crimes committed, not a place dedicated to the value of every individual and of helping those within its walls to safely be returned to society as valued members.

  53. (cont)

    If it were not a place of punishment or vengeance, then there would be no reason to have sentence terms. Whether it be 6 months or 20 years, the only thing that would matter would be rehabilitation, you stay until you can safely be returned to society and if that’s not possible due to our lack of ability you should be given the option of ending your on life rather than to live it out in a cell.

  54. Pingback: Your Questions About Stigma Of Mental Illness

  55. JustSomeGuy,

    I hear ya, and one of the things about bouncing stuff off one another is that it helps to get a better feel for our thoughts when we give them an opportunity to reflect off others. It’s easy to keep things to ourselves rather than engage with our thoughts in an open forum where we may be challenged in some way. Your admission furthers the opportunity for continued, meaningful dialogue. Thank you for taking that step.

    This topic has certainly stirred up a lot of raw emotion in all of us. This would be, in my opinion, an excellent time to call for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting, of which, to date, 137 have been observed.

    Abraham Lincoln said this in 1863:

    “…And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

    And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

    It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…” Abraham Lincoln March 30, 1863

  56. JustSomeGuy –

    Apology accepted and stick around for conversation. We can learn much from each other when we have discussions, even if they get heated at times.

  57. JustSomeGuy,

    I don’t think you’ll find a more open and tolerant blog than TWW anywhere. They allow atheists, agnostics, Pelagian heretics, you name it, all are welcome to participate so long as it’s civil and within reasonable bounds of good taste.

    Try commenting with even a hint of dissent from the party line at some other blogs which are run like the Spanish Inquisition and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

  58. numo

    I was focusing on the psychiatric side of things. However, there is no question that he held some fascinating religios and political views

  59. Kinda reminds me of the Serpent Seed doctrine.

    Just so you know I pressed the like button with my mind on your comment, Muff

  60. For all the comments being made about how our health care system deals with mental disorders (I agree it needs to change, btw), there’s one problem that hasn’t really been addressed: you can’t make someone take their meds. No matter how much understanding was given, or how many fantastic mental health facilities were created, we can never change the issue of a person going for help. My grandpa died from cancer because he refused to see his doctor about a bothersome mole. How much MORE difficult to get a paranoid scitzophrenic (spelling – I’m sorry!) to admit they need a problem and get help… And take their meds. Like, at what point do you start FORCING drugs on people? Would we FORCE chemo on a cancer patient? It’s a difficult topic.

    As far as Breivik being rehabilitated, I don’t believe it can happen. Of all the mental disorders out there, I firmly believe NPD can’t be healed or change. Call me a cynic, but I’ve known too many narcissists!

  61. should’ve said “are a part of his psychiatric problems.”

    i can’t help but wonder how much his illness plays into his beliefs, and vice versa.

  62. “I don’t think that mental illness or a need for care negates punishment, but it certainly must play a part in the process of our mission to individuals as the body of Christ.”

    Jeffs……that’s a tender identification recognizing our obligation to look at the whole person, not just an outcome of their behavior. As some one else posted, what if we found Lanza had a brain tumor, ( if he were still living), that would certainly put a different spin on assigning guilt.

  63. Lin, thanks for the complement. This whole discusision is near to my heart because I divorced my wife over hurtful behavior that was linked to mental health. It was a struggle to navigate those waters and there are many who would want to say “you should have stayed to endure it- it’s just like cancer” and others who will say “it doesn’t matter why, if she was hurting you, you had to protect yourself”. In the end, I kind of agree with the latter; however, that doesn’t make me happy about the way things turned out, and I don’t wish for bad things or punishment for my ex. I didn’t divorce her to punish her, but rather to protect myself and my son. And I hope that she will be able to find healing and that those around her will encourage her through her problems. I just know that it was too dangerous for me and my son to try to be that community for her. She needs friends, but not not a husband. She simply isn’t capable of being a wife, as sad as that is.

  64. Anon 1 wrote:

    A lot of mentally ill people do not mass murder people. I fear society going in a direction of believing all who commit such crimes are mentally ill. What then?

    (Godwin’s Law Invocation) In 1930s Germany, the Reich’s Euthanasia programs for “mental defectives” got a lot of popular support (or at least little objection) because of a spectacular string of German serial killers in the 1920s who were described as mentally retarded or mentally ill. (One of these was the inspiration for Fritz Lang’s classic movie “M”.) “All who commit such crimes are mentally ill” and its derived corollary “So Mentally Ill commit such crimes” were widespread memes whose examples were still in living memory.

  65. It occurs to me that Christ lived out in our lives should and could help us deal with issues in our families and culture in a rational and reasonable way. If Christ is preeminent, then we will treat those that are mentally ill in a way that will get them help and asistance. We will protect others when necessary from themselves and innocent people from them. We will eschew violent influences in our family and culture. We must examine ourselves and draw close to Christ in a relationship. From him, we will draw the rational and correct response. We must look at our “HEART” How do we treat?? We need people with conscience to treat, love , and care for those who need help. We need people of consience to protect.
    We need “common sense.” )eg do not give guns to the mentally ill, do not FOBID medical treatment-(duh,) do not overtreat, be vigilant and look for side effects of medication, protect those that cannot protect themselves and others… We need wisdom to know when it is physical, psychological, spiritual, and evil and how to deal with each and in combination. I have over my life seen so much bad spiritual,personal, psychiatric, psychological, and societal responses to mental illness. I have learned painful professional and personal lessons from mistakes. Who will deliver us? Only Christ, only Christ can. I can say that a personal response to those around me in our lives will make a difference -both good and bad. Hopefully knowing that it can make a differnce will bring hope and conviction, not condemnation.
    So share the “light that is within you” to others. Seek the Lord in your personal life and LIVE life as Christ would have you and show mercy to others with mental illness and families in crisis. What do you need to do today to love as Christ would? How do you need to facilitate help for a family member or relative? How do you need to support? Whom do you need to report to law enforcement that is mentally ill and owns guns? If you are a gun owner, are they fail safe protected? Are you in community? Do you know your neighbors? Do you try to elect rational leaders? Do you call out stupidity in the church? Are you compassionate to families with special needs? Are you living it out in your life today?
    Examine yourselves. I need to examine myself. Use this tragedy in Connecticut to live in this world as Christ would have you live and in prayer find out how you should change and respond in your life, in your circle.

  66. dee wrote:

    I heard about that guy.Wasn’t he returning from Italy?  He was another selfcentered individual who was aided by a guard who had not been trained in a basic understanding of communicable diseases. It makes my point. Just because someone is sick, does not mean that they can be allowed to harm others.

    He was returning from his wedding in Greece. The reason I know as much as I do about the story was because he was put under a federal quarantine in Atlanta, where I live. That was a big story because it was the first time that had happened in over 40 years.