FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, the plea for freedom by mental health patient, Albert Haines, is being publicly heard in a two-day tribunal that began yesterday.
Haines, who medics believe is still a danger to himself and the public, has been imprisoned for 25 years and is claiming that doctors have misdiagnosed him. His legal counsel is also arguing that his problems are exasperated by the fact that he has been detained for so long for a minor offence.
Dr Jose Romero-Urcelay, his treating clinician, insists that Haines is still in need of psychiatric attention, but also admitted that he could be released within two years under the correct treatment.
He also acknowledged psychiatry as being a science that is difficult to define: “We are not a precise science,” he said. “We don’t have a blood test or an X-ray.”
In a statement to the tribunal, Haines stated:
“I am labelled as having a mental disorder which I do not accept. So long as I am in a psychiatric setting I will be seen as a patient who needs treatment. Everything I do or say will be interpreted on this basis.”
Read the label
This is vividly reminiscent of the labelling theory, inspired by Howard Becker in the 1960s, that revolutionised sociological thinking of crime and deviance.
Labelling theorists Muncie & Fitzgerald (1981) discovered that once a person has been labeled as a criminal or deviant, they become “passive” followers of the “systematically determined forces.” Therefore labeling has the power to steal a person’s true identity.
This is in align with the self-fulfilling prophecy, which asserts that psychologically, we behave according to how we are labelled.
Becker (1963) suggested that labeling leads to more “abnormal behaviour” and people may not agree with the label they have been placed under, as “the rule-breaker may feel his judges are outsiders.” He argued that instead of becoming passive recipients of the label, deviants and criminals can reject their labels, which in turn, may generate more crime and deviance.
Muncie & Fitzgerald also stated that once someone has been branded as a deviant, this is humiliating and degrading for the individual and they are forced into new identity as a deviant. Classing someone as a criminal immediately distinguishes them from society. A criminal label can also induce fear among the public, which further accentuates the division.
The theory goes further to claim that those who have the authority to label also have the power to segregate society. This suggests that labels can be applied not only to those who are criminals, but those who are simply seen as politically threatening.
Labelling theory and the self-fulfilling prophecy can also apply to situations other than crime. Studies have also shown that the behaviour of school children subconsciously moulds to the expectations of their teachers.
The concept can be universal, although challenging to interpret concisely.
This theory does not mean that Haines should definitely be released. But the revolutionary hearing of his case provokes thought and confirms the difficulties society faces in objectively defining crime and, more importantly in this case, the criminal.