Individuals who are mentally ill and homeless suffer from the lack or limitation of resources available to them. These individuals are victimized and criminalized. Many homeless individuals on the street are sent to jail for vagrancy or substance abuse. They may also be mentally ill.
Since the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, the support system needed to help these individuals has not been established. Instead, these individuals are found frequenting the hospital and are often found in the prison system. They visit the emergency department or the psychiatric department for treatment and medication. These hospitals resources are often limited. They may be able to provide some medication to the patient, but not a long-term basis or outpatient basis. After leaving the hospital and returning to the streets, the individual may be victimized and his medication stolen. Without proper medication, the individual may commit crimes or may seem to be a threat to society, so is picked up by the police and sent to jail. This individual continues to cycle through the system, going between the streets, hospital, and jail.
Better support systems need to be available to the mentally ill. Well-funded community support and social safety nets need to be developed for the mentally ill so that they can live in the community with proper medication. Better access to medication is also important. If the homeless individual has to be at a shelter by 3 pm, he cannot go to the psychiatric department to pick up his 4:30 pm dosage. More affordable housing is also necessary to get these individuals off the street so they do not become victims of crime.
Gostin, L.O. (2008). 'Old' and 'new' institutions for persons with mental illness: treatment,
punishment or preventive confinement? Public Health, 122, 906-913.
Greenberg, G.A., & Rosenheck, R.A. (2008). Homelessness in the state and federal prison
population. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 18, 88-103.
Kushel, M.B., Hahn, J.A., Evans, J.L., Bangsberg, D.R., & Moss, A.R. (2005). Revolving doors:
imprisonment among the homeless and marginally housed population. American Journal
of Public Health, 95, 1747-1752.
Lamb, H.R., & Weinberger, L.E. (1998). Persons with severe mental illness in jails and prisons:
a review. Psychiatric Services, 49, 483-492.
Rules and lines are drawn to give us boundaries.For example, they group mentally-sick people based on certain criteria.Why and how those lines are drawn is important to look at, and perhaps mistakenly overlooked as evidenced by a study on patients in “vegetative” states (1).People are diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state when they are in a “state of wakefulness without detectable awareness” (2).But what exactly defines awareness?The study mentioned before disproved the accepted thought that people in this vegetative state do not have conscious thoughts or the capability to understand (3).The study monitored brain activity as the patient listened to sentences and directions to imagine walking through his/her home, play tennis, etc.(3). The fMRI scans showed the patient’s brain activities to be identical to those of normal people.Yet these patients were diagnosed to be in the persistent vegetative state because they cannot ostensibly provide responses.This research study questions whether or not the system of diagnosis is accurate.There may be more research needed to conclude if patients do indeed have proper brain response or if these cases were more of an unconscious response to the commands (4).However, this is still a startling revelation, and certainly has the potential to affect future court rulings regarding people in vegetative state.What and how large of a role should a family or the caretaker take in a patient’s ability to make life choices and furthermore, at what level is euthanasia permissible?This research is reminiscent of the Terri Schiavo case, where based on her husband’s testament to her wishes, Terri was taken off of life support due to her unrecoverable vegetative state.Had research like this been known at that time, would her wishes have been the same?Would it even be legal or morally correct to take her off life support if she were indeed “conscious?”The answers are unclear, but this research is important to pursue and to better understand cognitive ability and the law concerning those who supposedly lack it.
Neuroscientists at the Columbia University Medical College Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center recently reported that individuals exposed to violent visual media programming show decreased activity in their right-lateral orbitofrontal cortex (ltOFC) as well as a decrease in its communication with the amygdala (Kelly, et al.). This brain region, the ltOFC, is involved in suppressing aggressive reactions to situations, among other behaviors. The amygdala is critical in fear-sensing circuitry and its central nucleus is responsible for directing physiological changes that lead to behavioral output within a given context. By acting as a negative regulator of amygdala output, the ltOFC normally functions to decrease levels of violent aggression in inappropriate situations. Therefore, the diminished response of the inhibitory frontolimbic network results is an example of a concrete cortical change upon repeated exposure to media violence.
Previously, neuroscience had not been able to explain the claim that violent video games, movies, and TV programming significantly contributed to increased social violence among viewers. Kelly et al.’s finding, however, shows that exposure to such media induces changes in the cortical networks associated with controlling behavior. In my opinion, these results need to be highly publicized so that people, especially parents, are forewarned of such ill-effects. Knowledge of potential brain-changing activity should prevent a fully culpable individual from passing the blame onto video-game/violent-media producers in a criminal case.
Further, although peering inside the brain of a criminal suspect or during a proposed elementary school screening (likened to those for scoliosis or hearing) using fMRI may infringe on an individual’s 5th amendment rights, functional imaging results can help enforce pro-cultural laws regulating what film-artists and video-game producers can actually market to the public. If a new case was brought against the media concerning the display of violent, the prosecution could find fMRI analysis as a new tool in their belt. The scientific evidence of cortical network changes could set a strong precedent for future media content and represent an initial step toward preventative measures.
While browsing through my iTunes collection, I came upon some episodes of my favorite television show, Battlestar Galactica. As I watched a couple minutes of several sections of the episode, I found myself drawing connections between Neurolaw and the Cylons, which are essentially robots who have evolved to the point where they look, act, and even emote like their human creators. The “final 5” are Cylons who just recently realized that they are robots, which results in an identity crisis as these “five” had lived their entire lives truly believing they were human.
The most obvious connection to Neurolaw lies with these identity crises among these “final 5.” Upon finding out about their robotic nature, an internal conflict they face is not knowing whether or not their actions are a result of their own volition or their robotic “programming.” They worry about performing immoral acts such as killing their own friends, especially in light of what has previously happened to a Cylon character, who believed she was human, but as a result of her true robotic nature, carried out programming to perform an unwilling assassination. This especially relates to the issues of culpability that we have discussed in class. The assassinator robot acted and even truly showed remorse for her murder, yet, was unable to go against her own malicious programming. The viewers are left to wonder if she is truly culpable for her actions; she certainly did not have the intention to kill, but was forced to kill as a result of her inherent programming. This is the same dilemma we see in neurolaw: should people be guilty of the immoral actions they committed if they were simply biologically “programmed” to commit these actions? Furthermore, the Cylons are portrayed to be as human as their biological counterparts. By doing this, the writers of the show imply that the machinery of the Cylon’s robotic brain can still produce human emotions. This especially relates to the Neurolaw perspective as the human brain as simply a biological machine churning out our actions and emotions.
From an Nov.3, emailed blog.
Recently, a news story broke about a teen boy who shot a classmate in cold blood.His immature brain is being used as part of his defense.Brandon McInerny, 14 years-old, shot a gay classmate named Larry King one morning at school.He is being tried as an adult, which has caused quite a stir in the community and brought up questions of accountability for teenagers.Brandon’s lawyers reportedly plan on using a defense centered on neuroscience research, which shows that the teenagers, while they might have a fully-developed body, still lack a fully developed brain[2,3,4].In the words of the Brandon’s lawyer:
"They [teenagers] should not go away for the rest of their life. The brain development is a physical matter that is beyond your control. If it's out of your control, it lessens your culpability".
I agree that teenagers are fundamentally different from adults, and should be treated accordingly.It is difficult in the case of premeditated murder, however, to argue for significantly lighter sentencing.Any well-adjusted teen knows the moral implications of murder well enough to stop themselves from planning one.Brandon McInerny was not, however, a well-adjusted teen, as he had a difficult home life (and this might be expected of any murderer).
In this sense, I think it is clear that he needs a significant sentence, since he would be likely to commit such crimes even after his teenage brain is fully developed. It is difficult to swallow the thought of someone spending his or her entire life in jail for a crime committed early in high school. However, is it worth the risk to society to lighten their sentence, when at this point, effective rehabilitation isn’t yet possible?
These quandaries are difficult in the case of a possibly very dangerous citizen, but I think other cases of teen violence are much more clear-cut.
For victims of shaken baby syndrome, it is often teen parents who are the perpetrators.In the case of Paul Powell II, he was only 16 when he became frustrated with his daughter’s crying, and shook her, causing death.He is charged with open murder, felony murder and first-degree child abuse.
Teenagers are (correctly) stereotyped to be emotionally labile, erratic, and immature when it comes to making decisions.This has previously been attributed to hormones, inexperience, and lack of analyzing consequences thoroughly.While all of these are contributing factors, evidence in the field of neuroscience reveals that the teenage brain is not functionally mature.Myelination is the process of ensheathing neural cells, and is vital for proper functioning of the nervous system.The human brain is not fully myelinated until the early 20’s, and one of the last areas to myelinate is the frontal lobe.One’s frontal lobe is involved in emotional regulation, planning, impulse control, and risk-assessment among other things.It is clear that without the maturity of this part of the brain, one would be more prone to uncontrolled emotions and impulsivity.
These parents are still children themselves, and often aren’t mature enough to take care of a baby.This could make teen parents much more likely to abuse or neglect their children.The criminal justice system has a vested interest in child abuse because:
“Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.”
Abused children are also 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy , and with this in mind, we see that it can become a vicious, self-propagating cycle.
All of this leads me to believe that in the case of teenage parents, there needs to be a form of education which can prevent situations like that of Paul Powell II.These are not always cases of inherently violent people, but usually frustrated, inexperienced, and emotionally unprepared parents.If a 16-year-old needs a license to drive, why shouldn’t she or he need a license to parent?
Maybe a murderer will always be a murderer, but an abusive teenage parent seems like an easier target to reform and prevent.
We’ve all experienced it and it’s well documented: the fallibility of human memory. Studies suggest that a number of factors can distort memories, in some cases even causing individuals to confidently recall events that never actually occurred. The ease with which false memories are produced raises obvious concerns about the reliability of statements made by witnesses and others in situations such as criminal investigations and courtroom trials. In a recent report in PLoS One, sleep loss was identified as yet another factor that produces false memories. Sleep-deprived subjects gave significantly more false responses on a recognition memory test than subjects who were allowed to sleep. Despite this difference, both groups were equally confidant about the accuracy of their answers. Interestingly, a dose of caffeine given an hour before the memory test increased the number of accurate responses given by sleep-deprived subjects. As we understand more, could it be possible that evidence of poor sleep habits may one day be sufficient to discredit eyewitness testimony?
The law draws a line between being a minor and adulthood at 18 years of age in several ways. Voter registration, marriage without parental consent, and serving in juries are some examples. In 2005, the same distinction was made to juveniles facing trial for capital murder after the Rover v. Simmons case. In this case, the Court found that juveniles lack sufficient culpability and deterability to permit execution consistent with the Eighth Amendment (from Winick 2008).
How does the 18-year-old line compare to what we know about neurodevelopment and decision-making? There is ongoing research on neurodevelopment, especially now that MRI imaging techniques allow neuroscientists to peer into the human skull non-invasively. The research of Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethseda, Md., for example, looked at the brains of 145 healthy children at two-year intervals. One particular finding from this research is that the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) begins growing again before puberty.
The PFC is important in regulating behavior, controlling and regulating mood, planning, and organization. This role is known as the ‘executive function’ of the PFC and it might be helpful to understand that the PFC acts as the CEO of the brain. This area of the brain is still growing in teenagers (referenced in Spinck). In fact, the PFC is usually fully developed by age 25.
What does it mean for the PFC to be ‘under construction'? From the physiological perspective, this is the phase where synapses are pruned and consolidated. Gray matter is lost as some connections are enhanced and stabilized by an increase white matter. What can we say about the effects of this development on behavior? It is currently impossible to predict behavior or function from brain structure. As this research progresses, more will be known about how neurodevelopment may influence behavior.
Will these findings cross over to the legal system? The answer is problematic. It is unlikely that everyone’s brain will reach mature development at the same age. Some might mature at a much slower pace, and should this affect their legal status? The answer will be complicated, but there are some positive applications of these findings. For example, since the teenage brain undergoes a ‘growth-spurt’ just before puberty, and continues to develop until the early twenties, there may be many possibilities for rehabilitation. A better understanding of such development would help cognitive neuroscientists understand how to approach teens that exhibit antisocial or criminal behavior to maximize chances of improvement in their futures.
In December of 2007, The New York Times printed an article entitled, “Shielding Money Clashes with Elders’ Free Will”.The article described the life of an 81 year old man, Mr. Pyle, who has been living on a pension since 1989.He was living very well until 1999, when his wife died.He was very lonely and longed for friends who he could talk to on a regular basis.He met a middle-aged, single woman who was trying to raise a child without a steady job.After talking regularly for a while, Mr. Pyle offered to help the women out by giving her a series of small loans.As time went on, Mr. Pyle gave more and more money to the lady, who never paid him back.As Mr. Pyle’s debt grew, he tried to attain money in many different ways, including loans that he could not repay and eventually selling his house for much less than it was worth.Mr. Pyle, who now lives with his stepdaughter, has filed a lawsuit saying he should receive some compensation for this period of his life, claiming he is getting old and was not able to make the decisions he should have.
As we know, as we grow older we experience neural degeneration that can cause significant changes in our personalities.In many cases, elderly people, especially those who have lost their spouses, cling to their close friends much more than any other time in their lives.They will often do nearly anything to please and gain the acceptance of their friends.If such an elderly person does not have any close friends, they will reach out to anyone who will listen and they will work even harder to please that person.They have too much trust in the idea that people are generally good.This is what happened to Mr. Pyle.He was very lonely after he lost his wife, so he reached out and found a needy lady who would act like his friend.By giving her money, he felt like he was becoming closer friends with her.When a 19 year old boy came and offered to buy Mr. Pyle’s house, he trusted that the boy would be good and do what was best for him.So, when the boy gave him an offer, which was significantly lower than the house’s actual worth, Mr. Pyle accepted.How can we determine whether elderly people are able to handle their own finances?We cannot simply say that at a certain age people are no longer capable to manage their finances; that would impede on their free will and independence.We could do psychiatric tests to see if a person is still fully able to make their own financial decisions, but most elderly people do not even know that their mental stability is declining and would not seek psychiatric advice.There is very little leniency for elderly people.When a young person makes a mistake, they are not usually held accountable.This is not the case when someone gets older and “should know better”.
Charles Duhigg. "Shielding Money Clashes With Elders' Free Will". New York Times. December 24, 2007