The social construction of evil in a forensic setting

  • Richman J
  • Mercer D
  • Mason T
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Explored how ward-based psychiatric nurses in one (high-security forensic psychiatric) Special Hospital attributed the notion of evil to deviant or criminal behavior. Staff were asked to read and make comments about a series of vignettes, and abbreviated offense scenarios, from which emerged the construction of a taxonomic order of evil. Offender characteristics included Black or White race, gender, and diagnosis. The explanations of evil were then juxtaposed alongside their counterparts from theodicy. Deviancy attributed to extreme psychoticism was not credited with being an evil act, such individuals were described having a primordial contract of innocence. In contrast, extreme crimes committed by those with a psychopathic disorder were considered evil. An evil act was seen to be one which transgresses a natural boundary, the product of purposeful action after the accumulation of stages of reality testing, and a consequence of the extinction of moral bonding leading to residual instinctive behavior. With some patients, the nurses declared that the key should be thrown away, with the possibility of cure then becoming a forensic fiction. The need to consider treatment implications for those considered evil is proposed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ethnomethodology
  • Evil
  • Psychopathy
  • Special Hospital

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  • Joel Richman

  • Dave Mercer

  • Tom Mason

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