‘Mental Illness’ According To The Georgia Supreme Court

One particular headline in The August Chronicle caught my eye today: Courts, doctors may disagree on definition of mental illness. This is troubling as sometimes the courts use the mental health system to inflict cruel and unusual sentences on people who otherwise would have been released long ago.

The case comes from the appeal of a man who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to an assault charge and has spent the last six years in the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome. The state is closing that hospital in September, and Ladale Alexander Dupree is just one of a dozen remaining patients.

Unfortunately I was unable to find any particulars regarding this assault Ladale Dupree is accused of having made. I don’t know whether anybody was actually hurt, and if so, to what extent. In Florida it is assault to touch a police officer for instance. People sometimes, as Ladale seems to have done here, plead NGRI to get out of prison sentences only to find more of their time wasted in a state hospital than would have been wasted in a jail.

There are many people in the psychiatric survivor and mental health consumer movement who argue against the use of the NGRI plea, and chiefly because it is prejudicial to people who have done time in mental hospitals. It also represents a blurring of the distinction between medical science and police science. The argument goes that criminals, alleged to be possessed of a “mentally illness”, should be “treated” in criminal justice facilities instead.

The hospital’s director of the program that treats patients under court order testified at the hearing Dupree requested that he suffered from schizo-affective disorder, antisocial personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder. Dr. Julie Oliver said the schizo-affective disorder was a mental illness being successfully treated by medication and that he no longer presents a risk to himself or others.

The hospital’s director apparently had serious issues, one might even call it a grudge against him, with this individual.

His doctor, Julie Oliver, explained that the two personality disorders are not mental illnesses and cannot be treated with “medications”.

The Supreme Court concluded the personality disorders were indeed mental illnesses. Justice David Nahmias, writing for the majority, pointed to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by medical professionals, which he said characterizes the personality disorders as mental illnesses.

Psychiatrists aren’t apparently the only idiots, excuse me, intellectually challenged people, who take the DSM for their bible. It’s seems to be way up there on the shelf of supreme court judges as well. Let’s hope they can still manage to give a little more weight to the US Constitution and it’s Bill of Rights. I seriously doubt that this particular judge has managed to do so in this case.

Ladale Dupree is one of only a dozen patients still held at a state hospital that is slated for closure. The state of Georgia will apparently move Ladale to another institution when it closes in order that he may serve out the duration of his continuing “illnesses”, according to the court, an indeterminate sentence.

4 Responses

  1. Most people are conditioned from childhood to think that to commit a crime and receive a prison sentence is about the most shameful thing possible. Many think that these people will be in for some uncomfortable moments or worse when it comes time to meet St Peter at the pearly gates.
    So they believe (a word I’d like to see removed from language) that a psychiatrist can provide absolution.

    Governments and lawyers know that they can appeal to this notion since even non religious members of the public are likely to approve of this application of false charity.

    It also provides governments with all kinds of ways to provide favors, cook the books on crime figures and shuffle people to where it will be most politically or financially expedient.

    • In the USA, “mental illness” is used as an excuse to keep pedophiles confined in psychiatric institutions after their sentences have been served out. The theory, countered by evidense in the other direction, is that a pedophile will continue to reoffend. Given this situation, not only is your punishment cruel and unusual (it exceeds the time of the sentence one was given by a court of law), but it also gives people in mental health treatment a bad name (they are associated with pedophiles). Molesting children is a crime, it’s not a “illness”, and it should be treated like a crime. It should not be used as an excuse to permanently imprison people.

  2. The US Supreme Court begs to differ with the lower court on the issue of antisocial personality disorder as mental illness.

    • Thanks for the wikipedia link, Marlboro. Perhaps it should have been used in a case such as the one in the Georgia court we were looking at. I’m not sure the US Supreme Court really resolved the issue of whether antisocial personality disorder was a “mental illness” or not. Apparently the argument that it is not one was made in Foucha v. Louisiana, and won the case. In this case, it was disputed on account of being a listing in the DSM. No doubt the inclusion of personality disorders in the DSM is merely a reflection of the growing medicalization of the world at large. (Antisocial personality disorder serves as an easy and convenient excuse to detain people perceived as ‘dangerous’ and unruly.) I feel (I don’t know) that it is likely to mean we need another case brought before the US Supreme Court to decide the issue. I would hope, despite my doubts, that if that happened they would rule in the right way. Foucha v. Lousiana was the kind of ruling that does make sense.

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