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.