In a Parade magazine article last year, Sen. James Webb noted that the United States houses a quarter of the world's prisoners, which should imply that, "Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something ... vastly counterproductive." Webb is pushing to establish a commission to study possible reforms of the criminal justice system.
We certainly are doing something vastly counterproductive: we are putting justice and rehabilitation in the hands of "mental health professionals". It's vital to understand that this crowd does not share the older cultural orientation to crime and punishment, morality and personal responsibility. They believe, and operate on the basis that unacceptable behavior is really caused by chemical imbalances, or brain disease, to be "treated" by medical experts. This is a radical departure from universal human experience, but it's absolutely emblematic of our criminal justice system in the USA.
The complaint that prisons are our largest mental health institutions is intended as an argument for more hospitalization and treatment and less incarceration and punishment. In reality, anyone who spends any time in state nuthouses immediately sees there is little or no difference. Some state mental hospitals look cleaner and gentler than some prisons, but that's only a surface manifestation of spending 400% more per person in the mental hospitals.
I've said before, I know people in the nuthouse who have realized after the fact that they would have preferred an honest prison sentence to the total spiritual cruelty and the deep, creeping dehumanization of the mental health gulag. They would rather have worked with the guard with a gun who'd have said, "You murdered your fellow human being so we don't trust you any more, and we're going to keep you in a cage for a long time," not the security therapy aide with a syringe who said, "Your brain is defective and it caused you to act like an animal, so we're going to screw around with your brain to make you a better animal, all for your own good, which of course we understand and you don't."
I can suggest some possible reforms to the criminal justice system for Sen. Webb's commission to study. The insanity defense as we know it should be eliminated. Psychiatric progress notes should be generally barred from criminal court hearings as hearsay, unless whoever writes them is available for cross-examination. Psychiatric and psychological "expert" opinion testimony should be subjected to strict Daubert scrutiny for scientific validity and for relevance verses prejudicial impact.
The criminal justice system must recognize that "mental illness" is not a disease which can be the cause of, or the excuse for, any person's act. "Mental illness" is in fact an epithet, which may be easy and popular, but which really says more about the person using it than the person described.
All "mental illness" indicates, and all it explains, is our unwillingness deal with crazy people face-to-face-in-person, and our rather pathetic hope that medicine will save us from ever having to do so.
Take "mental illness" out of criminal justice completely, separate psychiatry from the state. That is the single necessary reform which will prove that we are not after all the most evil people on earth.