A powerful and humane exploration of the history of the "insanity defense," through the story of one poignant case.
When a three-year-old child was found with a head wound and other injuries, it looked like an open-and-shut case of second-degree murder. Psychologist and attorney Susan Vinocour agreed to evaluate the defendant, the child's mentally ill and impoverished grandmother, to determine whether she was competent to stand trial. Even if she had caused the child's death, had she realized at the time that her actions were wrong or was she legally "insane"?
What followed was anything but an open-and-shut case. Nobody's Child traces the legal definition of "insanity" back to its inception in Victorian Britain nearly two hundred years ago, from when our understanding of the human mind was in its infancy, to today, when questions of race, class, and ability so often determine who is legally "insane" and who is criminally guilty. Vinocour explains how "competency" and "insanity" are creatures of a legal system, not of psychiatric reality, and how, in criminal law, the insanity defense has to often been a luxury of the rich and white.
Nobody's Child is a profoundly dignified portrait of injustice in America and a complex examination of the troubling intersection of mental health and the law. When prisons are now the largest institutions for the mentally ill, Vinocour demands that we reckon with our conceptions of "insanity" with clarity, empathy, and responsibility.
About the Author
Susan Vinocour is a retired clinical and forensic psychologist, a former prosecutor, and a former associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. She lives in Pittsford, New York.
A deeply moving tale of what happens when we ‘treat’ severe poverty and mental illness through the criminal justice system. Drawing on her firsthand experience and expertise with a modern-day insanity defense trial, Susan Vinocour writes like a novelist, showing us in riveting detail just how injustice operates. — David Cole, national legal director, ACLU, and author of Engines of Liberty
As passionate as she is knowledgeable, Susan Vinocour brings humanity and dignity to telling the story of a woman whose voice we would otherwise never hear. Nobody's Child wraps a powerful narrative, a thought-provoking reflection on truth and evidence, and a wake-up call about the law's misunderstandings of mental illness into one unforgettable book.
— Susan Cheever, author of Drinking in America
In the age of the accelerated news cycle, the weaponization of outrage, and the easy rush to judgment, Nobody's Child is a harrowing journey through our broken judicial system. Susan Vinocour's expertise as a forensic psychologist—along with her humanity and literary talent—makes for a galvanizing read and, ultimately, a much-needed call for compassion.
— Jessica Bruder, author of Nomadland
In this moving, well-researched account of the insanity defense…Vinocour does a fine job explaining the defense in layman's terms. Sterling prose helps make this a page-turner. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)