Thursday, January 13, 2011

We're All Mad Here

DI: I understand you feel strongly about the Tucson shooting.

B: It makes me want to go out and punch somebody in the face.

DI: Someone who deserves it, presumably.

B: Preferably… but senseless gun violence, it strikes a nerve. I think punching anyone would make me feel better, at this point.

DI: Do you miss it, then? Being able to walk out onto the street and vent that frustration? Find a bastard and punish him.


B: Yes.

DI: As someone who’s been the object of your seething gaze, have you ever considered that you might have anger issues?

B: Yes.

DI: Yes as in you’ve thought about it or yes that you’ve concluded that you do.

B: I do. Occasionally.

But most of that is explainable, between my childhood, and exposure to crime and to warlike circumstances, I think anyone would have rage issues. So given those facts, I think my anger is larger within range.

DI: Sounds like you’ve seen a professional about this.

B: Dated a few.

DI: Professionals?

B: Doctors. Wiseass.

And I think it doesn’t take too many run-ins with genuine sociopaths to make you wonder about your own sanity.

DI: And that’s been a recurring theme in the Tucson shooting. Jared Loughner was apparently a very disturbed man, and there have been some who believe that the state of mental health care in the country lags behind even that of our lagging health care system. You’ve been in Arkham Asylum more times than most, what are your thoughts?

B: I’ve been to, and indeed inside Arkham, but never as a client- I want to be clear about that. There are enough rumors about me being crazy without you starting one about me being committed.

DI: Not to mention that Arkham isn’t your average mental health facility. It’s the Mayo Clinic for crazies- you’ve got to be somebody to reserve a padded cell there.

B: But Arkham is a mess. It’s a sinkhole for money. Most of the inmates don’t have insurance or assets. It’s funded almost entirely by a local charity group that matches donations and money budgeted from state and local government.

DI: I don’t want you to be alarmed by me actually doing a little research, but you fund that organization, don’t you?

B: Yeah. But what I mean to say is that there isn’t a lot of money to be had to pay for the genuinely mentally ill; that goes double for the dangerous, criminal mentally ill. Ronald Reagan gets a lot of the blame, though in truth he’s mostly responsible for California, where he was Governor at the time. He signed a bill changing the standards for involuntary commitment, and at the same time cut funding and staffing of state-run institutions. The idea was to shift the unstable into community facilities, but those facilities were almost all either underfunded or nonexistent. California’s just the most famous example of what happened across the country, seen mostly as a movement to strengthen patient rights. Its unintended consequence was closing down a lot of options for care for people who didn’t have a lot of alternatives. Arkham is just the most egregious example I’m aware of. That’s why I give money to it- like my parents before me.

DI: I’d like to spend a moment discussing what some have called the revolving door nature of Arkham.

B: I know a lot of people look at supercriminals elsewhere, who are capable of growing to the size of buildings, or causing earthquakes, and wonder why Arkham can’t handle its more human-sized inmates. But the Joker, on an average year, takes in over $60 million dollars from his various criminal enterprises. About 70% of that ends up being confiscated, most of it ending up in state coffers or being returned to his victims, but he is far from the most successful criminal in this city. This is a huge cottage industry. You simply can’t pay guards a quarter of a million dollars and expect that none of them will be swayed by paydays that large.

DI: Wait, did you just say you pay the guards a quarter mill a year?

B: Most of them are ex-Special Forces. Would you really expect anyone else to either be willing to take the job or be qualified for it? Arkham is a special case, with some of the most dangerous, unstable individuals on Earth, and the people who deal with them have to be properly compensated. And the same goes for the rest of the staff, from contractors to doctors to the custodians. They’re all comparably well paid, but between threats of violence and bribes, I’m not surprised at the number of escapes per year. About half of the people who are repeat offenders are genius-level intellects with peculiar and esoteric knowledge and skill sets.

DI: But given the recidivism, are you still against the death penalty?

B: If it’s through the courts, if it’s done properly… well, I’ll never be for the death penalty, but I’m not completely against it, either. At some point, the lives they take matter more than any principles we might want to uphold. And I mean any. And it’s acknowledging things like that that makes me glad to be out of that game, where that kind of decision was in my hands.

DI: And I hear that one reason why most of your gallery of rogues don’t get the chair, or at least put in sane people prison, is the constant use of the insanity defense. And I know you’re more in the apprehension side of things, but I understand you’ve sat in on enough insanity defense cases to have an idea of how that works. I know outside Gotham it’s still a fairly infrequent defense.

B: Right. But after John Hinckley got off after shooting Reagan, it picked up here. There are several tests involved with an insanity plea. The first is the M’Naghten rule, which most people know but have never heard by name. Basically, for someone to be not guilty by reason of insanity you have to prove that they don’t have the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. There’s a modifier to M’Naghten, that someone can’t be guilty if an impulse to commit an admittedly wrong act was “irresistible,” though that’s often considered too vague and broad.

But what’s probably had the most impact on these kinds of cases is that the burden of proof in New Jersey is on the state. So the state has to prove that the Joker was sane at the moment he commits a crime, and prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.

DI: Wow. This has been thoroughly depressing. But I seem to recall you having an amusing Joker anecdote to play us out.

B: Right. I once apprehended the Joker in Idaho. He was attempting, through food-tampering and theft on a wide scale to cause what he called, “The Great American Poh-tah-toe Famine.” He was giddy, like he always is- he even seems to like getting caught- until I told him that Idaho doesn’t have an insanity defense. They abolished it. He was going to go to real prison, and given the size of his crime spree, wasn’t likely to survive his sentence. He stared blankly for a moment, then said, “Poe-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe, let’s call the whole thing off.” Unfortunately, Idaho allowed extradition to Gotham, where he was wanted on more serious charges, and the cycle started over again. Every time he gets caught, I lobby the state to send him back to Idaho for his crimes, but so far there haven’t been any takers. Still, for a few months he had to contemplate spending the rest of his life in a real Idaho jail cell. I don’t think he found that funny.

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