It is an uncomfortable topic, particularly once we begin to explore mental health issues within the context of American prisons. There are currently ten times the number of individuals with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons than there are in state mental hospitals1. Prisons are currently our way of housing the mentally ill, de facto institutions when we find ourselves without appropriate healthcare facilities for long-term commitments.
Most prisoners are worse off biologically and emotionally when they emerge, increasing rates for re-offense. Not that this bothers us much; we assume that one who has been put away is a menace to society anyway, an individual who will surely do more harm than good. After all, you have to do something to get locked up. It is that action that we judge in our courthouses.
But neuroscientist David Eagleman has a slightly different take on the notion of justice in Incognito. Ealgeman argues that it is not simply the act committed that we should look at during sentencing. To judge an individual, we must identify how blameworthy they are.
And that, my friends, is a more difficult subject than most realize.... continue reading