Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cruel and Usual

Today's Chicago Tribune has a pair of editorials by Steve Chapman and Clarence Page, about the Supreme Court's order for California to release prisoners. Chapman mentions "Stalinist standards of barbarity," and Page notes how many offenders would actually prefer floggings as dealt out in Singapore or Malaysia, to five years in a California prison.

Ten years of experience tells me that many guys in state nuthouses would prefer prison to the even more barbaric gulag they find themselves confined in. In other words, prison is crueler than twenty lashes, but involuntary psychiatric commitment is worst of all.

Clarence Page says "as long as we insist on fooling ourselves with well-meaning fantasies," our correctional systems and all our attempts to protect good people from bad people will be unsuccessful. Steve Chapman recalls testimony from a former San Quentin warden, that the current system makes people worse.

These editorialists are talking about prison systems. They probably believe that more psychiatry could be part of a solution. How ironic!

The more we spend on state psychiatry, the more mental illness we'll have, and the more danger that mental illness will pose to us.

At best, "mental illness" itself is a well-meaning fantasy, folks. We have NOT progressed beyond the lash; our cruelty increases with every passing year. State psychiatry is a far greater horror than the prison sentences it was supposed to replace, and the more we try to medicalize behavior the more horrible it will get.

We are NOT safer from unpredicted violence perpetrated by our unfathomable fellows. The doctors do NOT have a pill to cure evil, and they never will.

We're better off with overcrowded prisons than Elgin Mental Health Center. Maybe the lash beats them both.

Preventing unnecessary cruelty is a good human impulse, but all we're doing is averting our eyes.

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