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A Prescription for Violence: The Legacy of Colonization in Contemporary Forensic Mental Health and the Production of Difference

Critical Criminology

Published online on


In this paper I will argue, through the example of the “treatment” of racialized minorities diagnosed with mental illness, that the mental health system (including its unique laws, production of different identity categories and ruling disciplines), with its dogmatic adherence to and reliance on alleged expert opinion and internal inquiry, allows for the erasure of subaltern voices. Often we hear about a tragic incident as reported by the media about someone diagnosed with a mental illness who has committed a crime. These representations routinely present the person as violent, aggressive, uncontrollable, and unpredictable. Repeatedly the voice of the accused is not represented; his or her social, historical, and political contexts are not considered relevant. The technologies of the criminal justice and mental health system’s use of physical or chemical restraint, coercive treatment, or practices such as deportation are also not reported, thus reproducing systems of harm. We don’t get to look inside the asylum. Patients’ voices are excluded from the discursive practices, disciplinary hegemony or dominant regimes of truth within the mental health system. This creates a system impermeable to criticism, where violence continues to prevail. Through a discussion of the disproportionate criminalization and deportation of the mentally ill, the false associations between mental illness and violence, the colonial ancestry of internal inquiry, and example cases from the media, this paper reviews how these particular technologies of violence owe their inheritance to the orientalising, discursive practices and disciplinary hegemony developed during colonization that when ignored, reproduce the dehumanizing outcomes upon which they were built.