Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Some mentally ill criminals should be punished.

In April of 2010, I was invited by the United Nations to give two speeches at the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice that was held in Salvador, Brazil. What follows is my first speech I gave at that Congress. 

A number of people in the United States think that mentally retarded adults who commit murder should not be sentenced to death because of them supposedly not knowing what they were doing when they murdered their victims. I am not convinced that they didn’t know that what they were doing was morally and mentally wrong.

Back in 1959 and 1960, I was a senior supervisor at an institution for mentally retarded children in Toronto. I was amazed at how smart these children were. Trust me when I tell you that they all knew the difference between right and wrong.

Mental retardation refers to substantial limitations in present functioning. It is characterized by significantly sub-average intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more of the following applicable adaptive skill areas: Communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure and work. Mental retardation generally manifests itself in humans before they reach the age of 18.

The effects of mental retardation vary considerably among people, just as the range of abilities varies considerably among people who are not mentally retarded. About 87 percent will be mildly affected and will be only a little slower than average in learning new information and skills. As children, their mental retardation is not readily apparent and may not be identified until they enter school. As adults, many will be able to lead independent lives in the community and will no longer be viewed as being mentally retarded.  The remaining 13 percent of people suffering from mental retardation, those with IQs that are under 50, will have serious limitations in functioning. However, with early intervention, a functional education and appropriate supports as an adult, most can lead satisfying lives in the community. Many persons with retardation are affected only minimally, and will function only somewhat slower than average in learning new skills and information.

The term mental age is used in intelligence testing. It means that the individual received the same number of correct responses on a standardized IQ test as the average person of that age in the sample population. For this reason, saying that an older person with mental retardation is like a person of a younger age or has the "mind" or "understanding" of a younger person is an incorrect usage of the term. The mental age only refers to the intelligence test score. It does not describe the level and nature of the person's experience and functioning in varying aspects of community life.

Among individuals suffering from mental retardation, there is a wide range of abilities, disabilities, strengths, and needs for support. It is common to find language delay and motor development significantly below norms of peers who do not suffer from mental retardation. More seriously affected children will experience delays in such areas of motor-skill development as mobility and  control of bodily actions. Compared to their non-disabled peers, children with mental retardation may generally be below norms in height and weight, may experience more speech problems, and may have a higher incidence of vision and hearing impairment.

In contrast to their classmates, students suffering from mental retardation often have problems with attention, perception, memory, problem-solving, and logical thought. They are slower in learning how to learn and find it harder to apply what they have learned to new situations or problems. Some professionals explain these patterns by asserting that children suffering from mental retardation have qualitatively different deficits in cognition or memory. Others believe that persons with mental retardation move through the same stages of development as those without retardation, although at a slower rate, reaching lower levels of functioning overall.

During the early part of the 20th century, residential training schools proliferated and individuals with mental retardation were enrolled in them. When training schools were unable to "cure" those suffering from mental retardation, they became overcrowded and many of the students were moved back into society where the focus of education began to change to special education classes in the community. The training schools, which were initially more educational in nature, then became custodial living centers.

It is clear, then, that there are deficits in some aspects of information processing in individuals with mental retardation however, not all aspects of information processing are deficient. Non-strategic processes, such as visual recognition memory, are equivalent in subjects with and without mental retardation whereas deficiencies are consistently observed in tasks requiring the use of strategies. Studies on a variety of structural features, such as automatic processing, spread of activation, short-term retention rate, stimulus organization, organization of semantic memory, and long-term retention show no difference between individuals with and without mental retardation.

The above information makes a strong case for the argument that many structural features of memory in individuals with mental retardation are equivalent to those found in individuals without mental retardation thereby suggesting that the same information processing architecture exists for children with and without mental retardation.

Mentally disabled children are taught the difference between right and wrong from a very early age and even at an early age, they can be manipulative. For example, in 1959, our institution had a six-year-old boy who kept throwing rolls of toilet paper into the toilet. He was spanked (not too hard) each time. Finally, when it was time to be spanked again, he exclaimed to the supervisor about to spank him, “I love you.” He was smart enough to realize that the supervisor wouldn’t spank a child that just said to her, “I love you.”

I am convinced (based on my experience in working with mentally retarded children) that unless the child is profoundly retarded, that is with an IQ that places the child in the lowest level (which incidentally was termed in the past as an idiot with the mental ability of a well trained dog) the child is capable of differentiating between right and wrong, life and death, love and hate, fear and anger etc.

As I see it, murderers who are mentally retarded (but not institutionalized) and live in the community where they meet normal people all the time, definitely know that what they are doing when they kill someone, is both morally and legally wrong. Repeat offenders who later kill, know at the time of the killing of their victim, that punishment follows their act so it doesn’t make much sense to argue on their behalf that they didn’t know what they were doing when they murdered their victim or that their act was deserving of punishment.

I think that mentally retarded adults with an IQ of 70 and above should be answerable for their crimes and be punished in the manner set down by the law.

                           End of my speech

Intellectual disability affects about 2–3% of the general population. 75–90% of these affected people have mild intellectual disabilities. Borderline mental disability is a categorization of intelligence wherein a person has below average cognitive ability (generally an IQ of 70-85). During school years, individuals with borderline intellectual functioning are often "slow learners. Although a large percentage of this group fails to complete high school and can often achieve only a low socioeconomic status, most adults in this group blend in with the rest of the population.

People with IQs between 70 and 90 have higher crime rates than people with IQs below or above this range, with the peak range being between 80 and 90.

Here is an interesting tidbit for you to ponder over. Terence Tao has an IQ Level of 225-230).  At age five, he taught a small child mathematics. He completed his college level courses by the time he was 12. He was the first one to win a gold medal in international Science Olympiad at the age of 13. By the time he turned 16, he was working on a project with NASA. He began attending classes for his PhD in astrophysics when he was just 18. am really envious of that man. My IQ is only 122. Anything over 140 is considered high or genius-level.  Alas, that places me 18 points below the level of a genius so I can’t be a member of Mensa. I have to admit however that that the IQ test I was given was done in 1962 (54 years ago). Maybe over the years, the level of my IQ has dropped. My wife certainly thinks so. Once in a while she will call me an idiot. 

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