Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Depravity -- Criminality

I know I usually write stories, but this article in PsychologyToday caught my attention. Usually, we in psychology try to edge away from ethics. Even the most criminally-associated personality disorder, "antisocial," is not "bad" in the classical sense. No where in the DSM-IV TR is there a requirement for a person to be a "bad guy" to have a mental disorder, although some people may lack an understanding of what society considers good and bad. I got my bachelor's studying ethics in philosophy, and I see why psychology cannot believe in an inflexible morality: it would be too high a standard. If psychologists had to sign on to the Christian 10 commandments, for example, on determining whether someone was morally confused, everyone would have some kind of personality disorder (especially Christians).

This doctor, of whom I have just heard about, discusses "depravity" in ethical terms, mostly as it relates to antisocial personality disorder- the classic sociopath. On the Michael Welner's website, he presents us with about 30 different elaborations on crimes which we are asked to define as "especially, somewhat, or not at all depraved."

Forensic psychologists are commonly called to cases in which a suspect's insanity is in question. If the APA had its way, anyone with a mental disorder who committed a crime would be sent to the mental hospital. And, in the early 1980's, this was actually the case until district attorneys had to take pay cuts for not sending more poor people to jail. The M'Naghten rules for criminal insanity mean that the suspect has to (1) not know what they were doing at the time of the commission of the crime and (2) have had no intention to commit that crime to get the insanity defense. The person had to be not only delusional but hallucinatory as well, which leaves out nearly all mental disorders except for the most acute cases of schizophrenia. As a result, of 1,000 felony charges only four try the insanity defense, and of those only two get it.

"Depravity," a tentative step in the direction of forensic ethics, tries to measure a criminal's "guilti-ness" so to speak. In the article linked to, Dr. Werner queries whether Bin Laden is a true psychopath or whether he is driven by religious devotion. I, myself, would prefer that we go back to the APA rules for the insanity defense so that criminals might get the correct treatment. Instead of measuring a criminal's depravity, which might indicate that person's stress levels and delusional beliefs instead of actual "evil-itude," we should strive to give these poor people the correct treatment.