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May 6, 2007

Examining "total institutionalization"

It appears that Professor Bernard Harcourt has wrapped up his terrific stint of guest-blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy.  Harcourt's many thoughtful and detailed posts (which are assembled here) focus on his new work spotlighting the massive shift in institutionalization from mental hospitals to prisons during the 20th century. 

I find Harcourt's work (here and elsewhere) very interesting and very important.  Everyone interested in prison law and policy ought to read and reflect upon Harcourt's exploration of "aggregated institutionalization."

May 6, 2007 at 03:28 AM | Permalink


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Michael Foucault made related, if not similar observations, although based on anecdotal history, in Abnormal, a printing of a series of a series of lectures at the College de France. Foucalt compared the concepts of monsters, the mentally ill, and the criminally violent and posited that we've moved from a primitive understanding of the person to be excluded from society as a monster to an understanding that sees the excluded as sick and precludes punishment if the ailment interfered with the defendant's conduct (I can't remember the exact exact standards he talked about).

M.F. moves from the idea of abandoning deformed babies, to the sequestration of whole towns during the plague, to discussing the affirmative defense of insanity introduced in French law and noting that the defense forced medicine on the law. Discussing the modern instersection of the law and psychiatry M.F. ntoes that the law cedes much of its fact-finding functions to the doctors, who supposedly have the expertise the courts lack. M.F., I think, is bothered by the "black box" of the expert opinion. Very interesting stuff, even if you think the methodology is off .

The debate goes on -- oral arguments in Panetti are coming up.

Also, Prof. Harcourt's method, according to him, finds a positive causal relationship between executions and homicides (that the former cause the latter). Controlling for the variables plays with the numbers at the margins, but the professor claims he sees a relationship.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | May 6, 2007 2:58:28 PM

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