I was cramming for an exam with my textbook last night when I came across an anecdote involving insanity and the legal system. Basically, it went like this: in Arkansas back in the ’70s a young man named Charles Singleton suffered from schizophrenia and in a state of psychosis, killed a woman by stabbing her to death. Singleton was, of course, deemed legally insane. Now, here’s the part that bothers me. They should have sent him to a hospital where he would receive treatment. Instead, the court ruled that he should be forcibly medicated so that he would be competent enough to receive the death penalty.
Yes, you read that right. They treated him so that they could kill him.
According to the Supreme Court, executing a mentally ill person, who is incapable of understanding why or what is happening to him or her, constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment”. But the Arkansas court forced medication so that he could be deemed sane. Am I the only one who sees something fundamentally wrong with this picture?
Apparently not. Amnesty International disapproved of Singleton’s sentence. Human rights activist groups appealed to Mike Huckabee to commute the sentence to life in prison. Huckabee refused.
Singleton was killed via lethal injection in 2004.
Toward the end of his life, he began to ask his attorney to stop fighting his sentence. According to his attorney, he welcomed his execution.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel terrible for the woman he killed in his psychotic state. But I also feel terrible for the killer in this case. I have been psychotic, and I can personally attest to the fact that in that kind of state, your thinking seems perfectly rational to you, even if in reality it is completely irrational or even dangerous. A person in a psychotic state really can’t be held accountable for his or her actions.
I can’t help but hate the Arkansas court and their governor, Huckabee, for their backwards thinking. It is this kind of insensitivity toward mental illness, coupled with the media’s often-negative portrayal of mental illness, that turns the population against the mentally ill.
The man was insane. He should have received hospital care.
Instead he received a very final kind of treatment: death.