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DELINQUENCY AND MENTAL DEFECT (III)1.
BY F. C. SHRUBSALL.
THE first questions that would seem to demand answers are, What are the manifestations of mental deficiency as legally recognised? and What are the proportions of defectives in the general and the delinquent population respectively?
In all places and at all times, certain persons have been noted by a majority of their fellows as showing an all-round inefficiency and irresponsibility of behaviour and from very early days it has been recognised that in some the condition dated from infancy, while in others it came on gradually or suddenly in later years of life. In early English legal writings we find the idiot or 'natural fool.' "He that hath had no understanding from his nativity" carefully distinguished from the 'lunatick' or idiot 'a casu et infirmitate," "One who aforetime hath had his wit and memory and happening to fail of his wit." Present day legislation deals with the defective as one who from mental causes from birth or an early age is in need of care and control for his own protection or the protection of others; thus following the ancient custom.
Before a mentally defective person can be dealt with by means of institutional treatment or guardianship, it is necessary to show by means of definite evidence:
(1) that he actually displays serious inefficiency in his daily life;
(2) that this disability is primarily of mental origin and is not due merely to the effects of physical disabilities or to an unfavourable environment;
(3) that the mental defect has existed from birth or an early age and is not due to subsequent degeneration;
(4) that the individual can be placed within one of the four classes of defective persons defined by the Mental Deficiency Act;
(5) that he is subject to be dealt with by reason of conforming to certain conditions which may be briefly summarised by saying that he is either neglected, delinquent or inebriate.
1 A contribution to the Symposium presented at the Joint Meeting of the Educational Section and the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society, April 25th, 1923.
While, therefore, the main basis on which action is taken depends on the behaviour of the subject in the nursery, the school or the world, this behaviour must be proven the result of mental defect by the personal observation of medical practitioners.
Insufficient data exist for an estimation of the total number of defectives in the population, but in 1922 there were known to be 11,000 mentally defective children under the age of 16 belonging to the County of London, or 1-3 per cent. of the population at the school ages. The figure is perhaps a little low since some of the lower grade who showed dangerous propensities may have been dealt with under the Lunacy Acts without coming to the notice of the education authority. The figure is, however, larger than that of the defectives as above defined in that it includes those who only display or need special educational methods, a rather different criterion to the need for special control. On an average of the last few years, 360 children per annum have been referred from the education to the control authority in London or approximately 6 per cent. of the annual crop of children. Bearing in mind that certain individuals have an adequate mental equipment to maintain a low place in ordinary schools yet fail to float under the conditions of social life it may be estimated that the true figure for adults lies somewhere a little under 1 per cent., diminishing as time goes on owing to the differential death-rate being against the defectives.
The proportions among delinquents may perhaps be estimated in the case of children from a consideration of the numbers in Industrial Schools; of these at the end of 1922, 2162 were in ordinary industrial schools and 85 in special industrial schools for the mentally defective. According to this 3.8 per cent. of the delinquents were defective, a proportion which agrees sufficiently well with Dr East's figures.
The next question, How far delinquent defectives are a random sample of the total defective population? may be investigated by a comparison
of the intelligence as estimated by intelligence tests in the two groups. The preceding table compares the average mental age of children in the day (M.D.) special schools with those in the special (M.D.) industrial schools for each chronological age of school life.
The delinquents thus show a slightly greater average intelligence than the mass of day special school children, a fortiori they would be above the general population of defectives including the imbeciles and idiots who do not attend these schools. In the case of adults the average mental age of the general population of defectives is 7.9 and of defective delinquents 8.5. It should be noted that the estimates of mental age in adults are not entirely comparable with those in children, since in the case of the former the tests have not been confined to the Binet-Simon series and its modifications.
Another method is to compare the percentage distribution of intelligence quotients in the respective groups, as in the following table:
From this it again appears that the delinquents are above the average of the other defectives, but not, at any rate in the case of the children, to an extent which excludes the possibility of random sampling, and further data are needed to answer the question. Probably the differences are more temperamental than intellectual.
As has been pointed out by Dr East, a defective may commit any type of offence and show defence reactions of the usual type such as fluent lying and attempts to incriminate others instead of themselves, but especially in the case of children and of adults of the lower mental grade the offences are often committed in a simple or stupid manner. A comparison of the percentage frequency of different offences which have
resulted in the children being sent to ordinary or to special industrial schools illustrates the point.
Of these offences it was noted that wandering provided the maximum number of lower grade cases.
In the case of adults, i.e. those over the age of 16, the average mental age has been calculated for each class of offence in a series of 234 men and 81 women. These are shown in ascending order of mentality as estimated by tests.
Wandering is often due to failure of orientation and lack of ability on the part of the subject either to ascertain his whereabouts or to take the necessary measures for returning home. Many of the cases of indecent exposure are due to sheer lack of appreciation of their surroundings and of ordinary social conventions rather than to any deliberate desire to give offence. That the women charged with soliciting should show a relatively high mental age for defectives falls in line with Dr East's observations.
An attempt has been made to ascertain the relationship between the nature of the offence and the emotional stability of mentally defective offenders by grading them into four classes in accordance with the general evidence of their behaviour without attempting to consider the respective qualities of specific instincts or emotions.
Wandering and begging
Nature of offence
Degree of Emotional Stability.
Total, all cases
Wandering and begging
Wandering and begging
The unstable classes are in the majority, especially in the case of women offenders; some of the offences of the men who from the results of enquiries into their conduct in other respects might be regarded as stable may be in part due to recent conditions of the labour market. This would apply in particular to such offences as begging, stealing and possibly to desertion. As a check on these possibilities it seemed desirable to extract from the records the evidence as to the regularity of the past employment of the offenders. They were therefore grouped under three heads, regular employment, occasional employment and unemployable, but as it appeared that a small number were still attending some form of school or had only just left and had not yet been in any place, a special group was made to record these.
times Moderately Very unstable unstable unstable Total