Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999 Page 4


By Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D., Fawcett Columbine, 1998 ($25.00)

Unlike most books written by a physician about medical conditions, this book is not only informative; it is fascinating. The author takes the reader down into some of the deepest gutters of life as she reports the horrible experiences told to her in inter rviews with the worst of the worst incarcerated criminals.

Dr. Lewis, a psychiatrist opposed to capital punishment, indicates how current methods of treating criminals exclude recognition of their true incapacitation. To make her case, she provides example after example of how neurological damage can cause crimin nal and violent behavior.

Most of the prisoners Lewis writes about had been physically and sexually abused by their parents, and Lewis notes, “The parents of children coming through the court had a host of psychiatric and medical problems similar to those of their children.” The b book’s only shortcoming is that Lewis fails to carry this statement to its logical conclusion: that the abusive parents and their criminal children, in all likelihood, share a genetic liability that steers both toward violent, antisocial, criminal acts (w which can in turn cause additional risk factors for criminality, such as head injuries inflicted by abusive parents). As the research presented in Crime Times makes clear, the traits that put people at risk for both chi ild abuse and criminality-including impulsiveness, low IQ, antisocial personality, and hyperactivity-are strongly genetically influenced.

Overall, Lewis’s work is a disturbing but fascinating book that those interested in the roots of criminality will find worthwhile, whatever their views about the death penalty. The detailed case histories presented in GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY c can easily lead the reader to the hypothesis that individuals with a genetic predisposition may end up as criminals, and that those who are abused by their parents may also become criminals, but that those who endure both may wind up on death row.



“Jonathan[Pincus, M.D.] and I have found that, in instances of overkill, the offender usually was psychotic, manic, or schizophrenic; had some type of brain dysfunction; was under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or suffered from some combination of the e above. Criminals just out to make a fast buck don’t go on rampages.”

“[One death row inmate’s] final meal proved to be a textbook example of how damage to certain parts of the frontal lobes affects planning. According to our public defender sources, this man set aside his dessert-pecan pie-so that he could have a midnight snack after his execution.”

“When the brain is out of whack, thinking goes awry; when thinking goes awry, feeling goes awry; when thinking and feeling go awry, behavior goes awry. That’s the way it is.”

Related Article: [2002, Vol. 8]

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