The Criminal Injustice System / Psychology
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA

The American Psikhushka
 by Joe Power

EVER SINCE the US Supreme Court’s 1997 Kansas v. Hendricks decision, 14 more states have passed laws instituting civil commitment procedures for sex offenders (for a total of 20 states). These laws allow committal due to “mental abnormality”, which is a far lower standard than for any other mental disability and are quite clearly intended as further punishment for a despised group (subsequent court decisions allowed continued incarceration even when no “therapy” was offered.) As a society we once roundly condemned such psychiatric abuse – now we routinely practice it.

Psikhushka is a Russian colloquialism for psychiatric hospital. In the Soviet Union, psychiatric hospitals were often used by the authorities as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally; as such they were considered a form of torture. The official explanation was that "no sane person would declaim against Soviet government and communism".

Psikhuskas had already been in use since the late 1940s (for example, Alexander Esenin-Volpin was imprisoned in 1949 for “anti-Soviet poetry”) and this increased during the Khrushchev era in the 1960s. (One of the first psikhuskas was the Psychiatric Prison Hospital in the city of Kazan. Beria transferred it to the NKVD in 1939. In 1969 the head of KGB, Yuri Andropov, submitted to the Central Committee of CPSU a plan for creating a whole network of psikhushkas.)

Soviet psychiatry created and then abused the diagnosis of sluggishly progressing schizophrenia -- a special form of the illness that supposedly affects only the person's social behavior, with no trace of other traits: "most frequently, ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure," according to the Moscow Serbsky Institute professors. Some of them had high rank in the MVD (the Ministry of Internal Affairs), such as the infamous Danil Luntz, who was characterized by Viktor Nekipelov1 as "no better than the criminal doctors who performed inhuman experiments on the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps."

Psychiatrists described a “sufferer” of sluggishly progressing schizophrenia as a person appearing quite normal most of the time but who would break out with a severe case of "inflexibility of convictions," or "nervous exhaustion brought on by his or her search for justice," or "a tendency to litigation" or "reformist delusions." The treatment involved intravenous injections of psychotropic drugs that were so painfully administered patients became unconscious.

“Criminal lunacy” became part of the Criminal Code in 1961 and described a person who was unable to “realize his actions or to control them.” Such actions included, “dissemination of patently false statements defaming Soviet political and social system,” “abuse of a national emblem or flag” or “active participation in group acts that break public peace.”

Russian historian and archivist Anatoli Prokopenko said, “By certifying people who were undesirable for the State as insane, it was possible to isolate them in psychiatric hospitals without court actions or public, internal or international upset.”

The sane individuals who were diagnosed as mentally ill were sent either to a regular psychiatric hospitals or, those deemed particularly dangerous, to special ones, run directly by the MVD. The treatment included various forms of restraint, electric shocks, a range of drugs (such as narcotics, tranquilizers, and insulin) that cause long lasting side effects, and sometimes involved beatings. Nekipelov describes inhuman uses of medical procedures such as lumbar punctures.

At least 365 sane people were treated for "politically defined madness" in the Soviet Union, and "there were surely hundreds more."1

Lest you think this was an abuse peculiar to the Soviet Union, another example is drawn from the work of a prominent Chinese forensic psychiatrist, who discussed crimes committed by persons with schizophrenia: "Among the cases under discussion ... the person would often display absolutely no sense or instinct of self-preservation, for example by openly mailing out reactionary letters or pasting up reactionary slogan-banners in public places -- and even, in some cases, signing his or her real name to the documents ... "2  By these criteria, political dissenters who openly attempt to build a democratic structure in China, rather than conspiratorially trying to undermine the communist state, are especially susceptible to being called mentally ill.

American psychiatrists are certainly not immune to bending science to the service of the state. Remember how not so very long ago they claimed homosexuality was a mental disorder and inflicted medieval tortures on people trying to “cure” their gayness?

Remember when “drapetomania” was a treatable psychiatric disorder? The term derives from the Greek drapetes ("runaway [slave]") + mania ("madness, frenzy"). This was a diagnosis proposed in 1851 by physician Samuel A. Cartwright, of the Louisiana Medical Association, to explain the tendency of black slaves to flee captivity. In the case of slaves "sulky and dissatisfied without cause" -- a warning sign of imminent flight -- Cartwright proposed "whipping the devil out of them" as a "preventative measure."

We laugh at the obvious pseudo-science behind such nonsense, but you can bet the victims of those diagnoses weren’t laughing. The same holds true for the present day victims of civil commitment. Unless and until objective and independently verifiable criteria can be established, the civil commitment of sex offenders cannot be seen as anything other than a rank abuse of psychiatry and a failure of the law to protect the human rights of a despised minority. For a country that continually pats itself on the back for being a shining beacon of liberty, this is nothing less than a shameful shortfall from our professed ideals.


Notes:
0. This article excerpted from various Wikipedia entries and other web sites.
1. Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, Doubleday, April, 2003, ISBN 0-7679-0056-1
2. Munro R: Judicial psychiatry in China and its political abuses. Columbia Journal of Asian Law 14:1-125, 2000

From NAMBLA Updates, Vol. 2, No. 2.  Pg. 3, Oct. 2007
Copyright © NAMBLA, 2011


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