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Making ‘Mad’ Laws II; Socio-legal Representations of Madness, Danger and Crime

Bernadette Dallaire.  Service social, Université Laval

“What to do with ‘them’ ?” Treatment, Control and Rehabilitation as Social “Solutions” with Regard to Mental Illness and the Mentally Ill

This paper aims to contextualize the question of law-making in the broader phenomenon of how society reacts to mental illness. By using the “social reaction to norms violations” theme (a now classic concept in the sociology of deviance — see Scheff, 1999) as the main thread for our analysis, we will review the various “solutions” currently used to tackle the “problems” posed by the presence of persons labelled as mentally ill in our societies: these include treatment-control under civil commitment orders, but also more “inclusive” responses that are promoted and applied in current rehabilitation practices (normalization, social integration and social participation, among others).  What does it mean to treat⁄control⁄normalize⁄integrate, when the recipient is considered partially incompetent and potentially dangerous (to self or others)? What are the expectations toward this recipient: to comply, to behave, to fit in? In exploring these questions, we will consider the actors, institutions and practices involved and, more fundamentally, the social representations underlying these forms of social responses.

Bruce Arrigo.  Criminal Justice, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Towards a Critical Penology of the Mentally Ill Offender: On Law, Ideology, and the Logic of Competency

This paper examines the “competency” construct as appropriated in the U.S legal system and applied to determinations of trial fitness and death row execution. At issue here is the potential for furthering a critical theory of punishment for persons with psychiatric disorders. Relying on the model developed by Arrigo (2002), this paper demonstrates how the logic of the legal and psychiatric communities is situated in and dependent on a circumscribed discourse that privileges certain versions of truth, identity, meaning, and reality. At the same time, these linguistic parameters of sense-making invalidate and, consequently, reject alternative grammars that represent replacement ways of thinking and being.  As a result, expressions of difference in thought and behavior are pathologized. The pathology of difference in the instance of mental health system users when conveyed unconsciously through the written word (case law) is a stand-in for the sign of punishment. Thus, this paper explains how the competency construct punishes the mentally ill offender first through discourse, subsequently legitimized through social effect.

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