ABSTRACT

We have attempted to identify some of the social forces that have contributed to the emergence of the mentally disordered offender. It is further contended that this field of expertise, or body of knowledge, is only attainable with the sanction and legitimation of the society in which it is set. At one level society appears to adopt a simplistic view of mentally disordered offenders, particularly in relation to heinous crimes, with the popular press calling for capital punishment, embracing outrage, and insisting that we 'throw away the keys'. However, it is through a series of complex interactive processes that society bestows the right of the profession to enact its occupation. Through the verbalised statements of 'mad' and 'bad' in response to abhorrent crimes being labelled 'sick' or 'evil', again as evidenced both in media coverage and through lay conversations, through the rebuttal of outrageous offenses society verifies the relationship between criminal activity as a function of mental aberration in terms of madness, badness, or both. Thus society sanctions psychiatry's hold on its subject. Furthermore, this social enactment can be seen in the tragedy of the lynch mob awaiting the prison transport that escorts the accused to court; a common scene in serious cases, where the crime is deemed to be beyond the pale. Police apparently stand by, offering only a token gesture of control, whilst a baying crowd direct abuse and assault toward the prison van. Such scenes are short lived, but socially important in reinforcing those values that construct the criminal and govern attendant responses. This interplay between the crowd, the offender in the prison van, the police at the scene, and the observers through the media, is a multi-faceted exchange of normative prescriptions in which each affords the other some degree of expression.