Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Insanity Has Found Its Way to TV Screens

Slate has become my go-to site for clear discussions of complex stuff.  Sure, it tends to run with my ideological preferences, but it remains a website that consistently posts great explanations and histories of interesting stuff.  So, my abuse of the word crazy in previous posts led me to this post on the insanity defense.  I did not know that there was so much effort to restrict its application even though it is not the magic card to get out of jail that apparently is widely believed.  "Contrary to popular belief, the insanity defense is used in fewer than 1 percent of all cases* and only has about a 26 percent success rate. In 90 percent of the successful claims, the defendants had been previously diagnosed with mental illness."

So, it is rarely invoke.  And if successful, the person ends up staying incarcerated longer than a normal prison sentence.  Unless you attempt to kill a President.  In which case, the actual sentence will be the same--life.

Of the many reactions to the horror of the weekend, including blaming rhetoric, thinking about gun control, a natural one is to ponder the state of our mental health care system and call for more funding.  I am about as optimistic that this event will lead to improvements in US mental health care as it will lead to gun control and a more civil political discourse.  Mental health has always been short-changed, and I am pretty sure that is going to continue, despite the best efforts of groups that have sprung up to lobby for better care.

One last political science-y thought on this.  I wish I was gifted with the ability to create smart polls in a timely manner.  My best guess is that this event probably did not cause that many people to alter significantly their views.  The left will be reminded that Palin is irresponsible in her rhetoric and that the right wing has been amping up the crazy talk about tyranny and Obama and all the rest.  The right will think that the left will politicize anything.  The people in the middle will be annoyed by everyone and remain disengaged from much of the political discourse.  That is, the event will confirm people's beliefs and attitudes.  I hope that I am wrong. 

I hope that this tragedy would slow the tide of hate and fear, but since we have already accumulated enough of these events recently (guy flies a plane into a public building, guy shoots in the US Holocaust Museum, etc) and more distantly (Oklahoma City) and not learned that much, I am pessimistic that any good will come from this event.  After all, isn't one of the classic definitions of insanity being one expects a different outcome even though the same thing happens again and again?

*  Cases of what?  All crimes including theft and speeding, or just murder?

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