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Glueck’s work hails from the beginning of the twentieth century, and explores the psychological origin of psychosis and its implications in the field of criminology. The study of the abnormal or maladjusted individual is one of the key investigations in the field of psychology, as it shows elements of human reasoning which are disguised or hidden from notice in well-adjusted individuals. Glueck writes from the psychological angle, specifically from the perspective that not all psychoses are organic in origin. It was once thought that all mental aberration could be traced to abnormalities in brain structure. By the turn of the century, though, studies had shown that only a small percentage of individuals with aberrant behavior had any organic irregularities whatsoever.
Glueck draws a great deal of information from records of those within institutions, which is one of the main features of interest for the work. Rather than focusing on theory, he uses the “living laboratories” of the jails and insane asylums. He looks at actual accounts of behavior, rather than theorizing about what people do or why they do it. There is a certain degree of theory, as is unavoidable in a psychological work, however the bulk of the work is factual in account and practical in nature. Glueck is less concerned with the substantiation of a psychological perspective and more so with providing a workable understanding of psychosis that can be used to improve the legal system’s handling of affected individuals.
Studies in Forensic Psychiatry reflects a movement away from the punitive perspective of the law and towards the goal of rehabilitation. As a part of this movement, emphasis is placed upon the individual and their motivations, rather than solely upon the act. Previous legal perspective considered only the act in question and sought to provide a punishment suitable to the breach in conduct. These punishments were perceived as deterrents, examples that would improve the conduct of society at large by enforcing consequences to immoral behavior or behavior harmful to society. One of the key conclusions in the work is that, since certain breaches in conduct arise from deep, unconscious urges, the method of punishment as a deterrent has no influence. Instead, it is necessary to understand the individual themselves, the mental patterns or qualities of character that make aberrant or maladjusted behavior more likely.
Studies in Forensic Psychiatry is divided into five parts. The first explores prison psychosis, the tendency for otherwise healthy individuals to exhibit symptoms of psychosis under the stresses of incarceration and the emotional blow both of having committed a crime and awaiting trial for it. Glueck cites some of the previous research into the matter, identifying is as a manifestation of a Ganser-like symptom complex, a reaction of certain mental types to extreme emotional and environmental stress. He next explores the psychological origin of mental disorder. This exploration is, in part, a reaction to the materialistic movement in psychology, or the perception that all mental disorder could be traced to organic sources.
Glueck devotes the final three sections of the work to an exploration of specific mental disorders and the psychological factors which underlie them. He examines the paranoid, showing that these individuals usually have above average intelligence and might go altogether unnoticed when operating outside of their specific delusion. His observation that these individuals tend to use the law as their primary weapon is interesting, and stands as a caution to those in the legal institutions. He devotes one section to the malingerer, showing that those who display this trait often have other mental disorders alongside it. Finally, he examines kleptomania, drawing heavily from Freud in his psychological assessment of this trait.
One of the dangers of Glueck’s perspective is the idea that we can identify certain mental or character types that are most likely to fall afoul of the law. And that we should take preventative action to isolate these individuals from the remainder of society before they have the opportunity to perform any breaches of conduct. He further advocates annexes to the penal institutions as wings for the criminally insane. If this idea were taken to its logical conclusion, a good many innocent people could be placed in asylums simply because they met certain character markers that our diagnostic methods associate with aberrant behavior. This is counter to the entire philosophy of our justice system and of the nation itself.
Glueck himself admits that there is no clear line that separates the mentally healthy individual from the mentally aberrant one. This is a line that could have been taken straight from Freud. We all have a certain measure of eccentricity, or if we wanted to use a slightly more antiquated language, a certain measure of neurosis. One conclusion that Glueck’s work points to, though he doesn’t approach it from this angle, is that each person has vulnerabilities in their psychological make-up. If we were to be placed under just the right – or wrong – circumstances, then sufficient stress would be placed upon these vulnerabilities for us to have a breakdown. The accounts of Ganser-like symptom complexes in those that were jailed and awaiting trial are perfect examples of this basic human truth.
One thing that I very much appreciate about the work is the length Glueck has gone to understand certain cases of mental aberration from the psychological and developmental point of view. His exploration of the paranoid, the malingerer, and the kleptomaniac highlight certain psychological aspects of these conditions, showing how they relate to the “normal” psychological makeup, and indicating certain challenges in dealing with these cases from a legal standpoint. This is a great step forward in the theory of criminology as the punitive method is severely limited in both deterring crime and in creating conditions for the rehabilitation of criminals.
All in all, this is a well-researched and psychologically sound investigation into the nature of mental aberration and its influence on the legal system. Glueck has a number of suggestions to improve the function of the legal system by taking into account the relevant psychology. It’s well worth a listen for any interested in criminology or psychology, and should be mandatory for those preparing to work in the field of law.
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