Of Unsound Mind
is a resource library and writing hub for rethinking the history of madness and psychiatry in the fight for futures beyond controlling, containing, and calming distress in a tumultuous world.
History and Critique
Mental Health Behind Bars
The judge and the forensic psychiatrist get lunch together before they commit the next schizophrenic. The police officer and the social worker are on a first-name basis; both know which chemical tranquilizer acts fastest. The inmate at the security hospital is unsure whether she's in prison or the hospital. The same psychologist that assures the delinquent/mentally ill student he's the innocent victim of traumatic and unfair systems fears his outbursts and dials 911 when he screams at school.
The United States is facing a reckoning, not only with its mechanisms of policing and imprisonment, but also with its wider history of violence—the foundational core of the national and economic project in settler-colonial genocide, in anti-Blackness and slavery, and in relentless imperial expansion.
The criminal is already mad. The forces which identify and categorize these two types, watch them, and detain, manage, control, or eliminate them are often the same, and, when they aren't (i.e. when they are bifurcated into special fields like "municipal police" and "forensic psychiatrist"), they operate within the same horizon of knowledge and practice.
Policing and mental health care aren't antagonistic practices, but mutually constitutive. There is no moment where one operates without the other. A "non-policing psychiatry" wouldn't resemble any psychiatry that has existed to this day. It would have to be rethought from the ground up. A "non-psychiatric criminal law" would be missing a legal category that makes it work, namely, insanity.
The stories we have been told about the history of psychiatry are simplistic to the degree of dishonesty. Binaries of care vs. punishment or benevolence vs. retribution conceal the ways in which the logics of incarceration and security are embedded on both sides. When these binaries are opposed to one another in order to legitimate one at the expense of the other, their shared underlying logic spreads ever farther, and without real detriment to either.
Of Unsound Mind seeks to explore how psychiatric knowledge and practice is, and always has been, a constitutive element of policing, incarceration, and surveillance (and vice-versa) in capitalist societies. A project of building worlds without prisons and police must therefore include reframing not just how we think about crime, but also madness and disability in relation to capitalism.