for rape and attempted rape in Virginia between 1908 and 1963—56 percent whites and 44 percent blacks. For attempted rape, 13 had been executed. For rape, 41 men had been executed. All those executed were black. Not one of the whites was executed. After listening to evidence like this, in 1972 the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty, as applied, was unconstitutional. The execution of prisoners stopped—but not for long. The states wrote new laws, and in 1977 they again began to execute prisoners. African American ( Statistical Abstract 2010: (Latinos are evidently counted as whites in this statistic.) While living on death row is risky for anyone, the risk is higher for African Americans and Latinos who killed whites. They are more likely to be executed (Jacobs et al. 2007). The most accurate predictor of who will be put to death, though, is somewhat surprising: Those who have the least education are the most likely to be executed (Karamouzis and Harper 2007). Legal Change: As has been stressed in this chapter, deviance, including the form called crime , is so relative that it varies from one society to another, and from one group to another within the same society. Crime also varies from one time period to another, as opinions change or as different groups gain access to power. The Medicalization of Deviance: Mental Illness: Another way in which society deals with deviance is to “medicalize” it. Neither Mental nor Illness? To medicalize something is to make it a medical matter, to classify it as a form of illness that properly belongs in the care of physicians. For the past hundred years or so, especially since the time of Sigmund Freud (1856– 1939), the Viennese physician who founded psychoanalysis, there has been a growing tendency toward the medicalization of deviance. In this view, deviance, including crime, is a sign of mental sickness. 12
Thomas Szasz (1986, 1996, 1998), a renegade in his profession of psychiatry, argues that mental illnesses are neither mental nor illnesses. They are simply problem behaviors. Some behaviors that are called mental illnesses have organic causes; that is, they are physical illnesses that result in unusual perceptions or behavior. Some depression, for example, is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can be treated by drugs. Misbehaving children have been a problem throughout history, but now their problem behavior has become a sign of mental illness. All of us have troubles. Some of us face a constant barrage of problems as we go through life. Some strike out at others; and some, in Merton’s terms, become retreatists and withdraw into their apartments or homes, refusing to come out. These are behaviors, not mental illnesses , stresses Szasz. To explain behavior that people find bizarre, he directs our attention not to causes hidden deep within the “subconscious,” but, instead, to how people learn such behaviors.
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