Narratives of Illness and Offending: Mentally Disordered Offenders’ Views on Their Offending.

Friday, 20 July 2018: 19:00
Oral Presentation
Jeremy DIXON, University of Bath, United Kingdom
Mentally disordered offenders pose a problem for the criminal justice system. Courts are tasked with deciding whether an individual has committed an offence and how far they should be held responsible. However, mental disorder may limit an individual’s ability to understand or weigh up the consequences of their actions making notions of responsibility problematic. This paper is about how a group of individuals, identified by the courts as needing psychiatric treatment due to their level of risk toward others, viewed their offending behaviour.

Narratives have been used in both the sociology of health and illness and in criminology to examine how groups of people present themselves in moral terms. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the narratives of offenders’ s subject to section 37 / 41 MHA 1983 as a means of highlighting how illness and offending are presented within talk to present a moral identity. I offer a new approach towards the study of offender narratives through drawing on theories from both the sociology of health and illness and criminology to identify how accounts of offending and illness intersect.

Participants presented illness in a variety of different ways indicating a range of moral positions towards offending. In line with previous research a first group used mental illness to excuse offending and saw themselves as achieving moral reform through treatment. A second group also used illness to excuse offending, but did so inconsistently, seeking to mitigate responsibility whilst distancing themselves from treatment obligations. A third group portrayed themselves as dishonourable both due to their category of offence and the type of illness experienced. A final group rejected both labels of illness and offending, seeking to portray themselves as consistently moral.