Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System: Labelling Theory

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Throughout history, there have been many influential individuals producing ideologies for and against those afflicted by mental health. Meaning that societal views have changed the way in which people perceive mental illness in general. This is extremely important to note because it applies the foundation for future generations. By looking through these historical contexts students and even professionals can appreciate and learn from the dramatic policy changes that have affected society.

The first known hospital for the mentally ill was established in 1752 by Quakers in Philadelphia. This was also the first known attempt in controlling those afflicted with mental illness (Anon 2017). The basic setup of this hospital was a basement with shackles that individuals were taken to spend time by eliminating any disturbances from the common folk. After more people new about this new way of keeping hysterical people off the street’s popularity had taken root (Anon 2017). During this time however two influential individuals came into play, Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin.

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Thomas Bond, the father of clinical medicine, was campaigning to raise funds for his vision but had trouble acquiring funds, so he sought out his good friend Benjamin Franklin (Gensel 2005). Bonds vision was to fix the problem in Philadelphia at the time, over population. By fixing this problem he proposed that there should be a place to put lunatics off the streets, or an asylum. Benjamin franklin also agreed and opened the Pennsylvania hospital for the insane (Gensel 2005). Fast-forward 30 years to a well-educated psychiatrist, Benjamin Rush, to provide a change in treatment at the Pennsylvania hospital for the insane (Gensel 2005).

Benjamin Rush is not only considered the father of American psychiatry, but he is also implemented policy change within the criminal justice system. Hospitalization for Rush meant that chains we’re not ethically right for those who didn’t need them so in response to his ideology he stops the hospital from chaining most of the patients. Rush also stopped citizens from coming into the hospital to indulge and craziness for the thought of entertainment (Tomes 2016).

Even though Rush was ahead of his time, he still used horrific measures of testing to establish a diagnosis. For example, he used a method called bloodletting which was used as a means of clearing the body of diseased blood by draining blood from an individual (Scull 1999). Rush also coined the idea that mental illness was a disease in mind rather than being possessed by the devil. Not only did his ideas caused uproar from the citizens in Philadelphia but also created extremist views against the church. Rush, like many others before him, thought that he was truly being humane to his patients.

Another supporter of humane treatment towards individuals with mental health was Dorothea Dix. Dix was born in an unhappy home in 1802 in Maine and was noted at an early age to have an open heart (Parry 2006). Her passion for helping people began in her early years as an elementary school teacher but she knew that she was meant for more. At the age of 8 she moved in with her rich grandmother away from her toxic parent to dedicate her life to teaching. Since women weren’t allowed to vote or have professional jobs during that time Dix began extending her studies to become a secondary educator (Parry 2006).

After her grandmother died in 1837, Dix became depressed and was even known to have a mental break down during the time. Dix became well enough to dedicate her time to a women’s facility at Cambridge in 1841 where she was first introduced to her true passion, reform (Parry 2006). Dix was extremely disgusted with the conditions that she and the patients faced. After getting to know the customs of the facility she began to investigate in the matter of mistreatment towards inmates and patients (Parry 2006). In 1843 she began her investigation in Massachusetts where she eventually created a petition that founds its way into the national level in 1848. Congress and former president Franklin Pierce vetoed the statement, probably because she was a woman (Parry 2006). Dorothea Dix was eons before her time, she not only thought that prisons were treating harshly but was also concerned with race being an issue. Her views on racism also made her known. Because of women like Dix reform is questioned and therefore put into action (Parry 2006).

Following the footsteps of Dix came Clifford Beers, an activist for prison reform in the 1900s (Parry 2010). He was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1876, his parents suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after losing children at a very young age (Parry 2010). Looking through the cracks of his childhood, one can speculate that his role in mental illness was shaped by his environment. Clifford had three older siblings that did live into adulthood but unfortunately died in mental health institutions, two of which committed suicide (Parry 2010). Even though his life looked grim he remained on track with his educational goals and graduated from Yale (Parry 2010).

[bookmark: _Hlk25272066]After graduating from Yale in 1897 he became open about his depression as a student which unfortunately developed into his adulthood (Parry 2010). Therefore, due to his extreme anxiety he tried to commit suicide by throwing himself out his bedroom window, this eventually led him to be hospitalized with physical and mental injuries (Parry 2010). Beers was suffering from hallucinations and paranoia which later developed into a non-verbal diagnosis. He remained at the Connecticut state hospital at Middletown for three years, was mistreated and abused. Through his tragic experiences at the state hospital he began understanding the importance of how individuals should be treated with mental illness (Parry 2010).

After being institutionalized himself for 3 years Beers became an activist for individuals suffering with mental illness (Parry 2010). Improving the overall institutional care was his main goal that challenged many stigmas behind mental illness. Through his efforts he created a major move in stance towards individuals seeking help. Beers efforts also created a foundation in the school system as well to have a lasting impact on students, this position is now known as the guidance counselor (Parry 2010).

He later wrote a book about his experience with mental health and at the Connecticut state hospital called A mind that found itself, 1908 (Parry 2010). As a result from the book being very popular, Beers began highlighting the practices that were introduced by institutionalization. In 1930 Beers organized the international Congress for mental hygiene in Washington DC, this meeting launched international reform efforts and led to the development of international committee for mental hygiene (Parry 2010). This movement eventually took a toll on Beers and again fell victim to depression (Parry 2010). Beers admitted himself into Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island and unfortunately this is where he died in 1943 (Parry 2010).

Historical contexts prove to undermine the policies surrounding the social issue today in criminal justice, labelling. In order to better understand why policy is important to mental health in the criminal justice system one must first look through a sociological lens. Through a societal point of view, most theorist search for an explanation of why people react to certain situations. In the case of crime theorists like Howard Becker played an important role in collective ways of thinking about crime and how its effects society. A major principle that Becker created was the labelling theory. The labelling theory became the dominant sociological theory of the 1960’s and is still taught in schools to this day. This theory changed the way in which people thought about criminality in general, it soon became the highlight of social reactions and defining certain individuals as such. Making this assumption however has its costs, the components of this theory try to understand the core reason why people become criminals (Carrabine 2014).

Labelling theory is a way in which society views and classifies individuals due to their behaviors and identity. Delinquency is the communal view of those types of behaviors that are deemed inappropriate. Becker understood this and challenged the notion of defining the evil or in better term, deviant individuals in society. Even though this theory provided deep insight in common ideologies, it did nevertheless, raise questions of its true purpose. Becker found that throughout time he would question his intention of his theory, he explained that thought societal reaction the consequences to the application of a certain label could affect an individual (Carrabine 2014).

Evidence of labelling theory can be witnessed in many forms, an example of this statement can be described by Frances Hillier-Brown, Katie Thomson, Victoria Mcgowan, Joanne Cairns, Terje A. Eikemo, Diana Gil-Gonzále & Clare Bambra, in their “systematic review to update and appraise the evidence base of the effects of social protection policies on health inequalities” (2019). Social inequalities happen more often than they should and by applying the labelling theory it’s almost impossible to be completely blind by stigma. Stigma is seen throughout the lens of everyone and can lead to dangerous depictions of certain individuals. Historically mental illness has been handled by trial and error. An example that comes to mind is the Salem witch trials, as depicted through historical means one could speculate that’s all the citizens knew during that time. Looking deeper in the issue at hand though, word of mouth and stigmatizing is what created moral panic that eventually led to the deaths of hundreds. Even today there is evidence of misinterpretation due to stigma. When not only seeing through the lens the societal standpoint but that of a law-abiding standpoint it’s kind of scary to reveal the impacts of how stigma affects Individuals lives. “The stigma of mental illness is a serious social issue that impacts one of society’s most vulnerable groups”.

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