The producer of this Frontline documentary of "a crime of insanity," immediately informs the reader what the focus of the story is by stating: "When a paranoid schizophrenic committed a violent crime, the legal and psychiatric worlds collided ..." With this, the reader is introduced to Ralph Tortorici. Ralph was born with a birth defect, but otherwise grew into a seemingly "normal" young boy. By his teen years however, he became "aggressive and confrontational," suffered from paranoid delusions, and eventually turned to drugs. Interviews with family members make it clear what it was like living with someone who thought that the police were "following him" and "out to get him," coworkers were "watching him," and even his own relatives were in on a "conspiracy" against him. It discusses the events that led to the violent act Ralph perpetrated at gunpoint, his subsequent journey through the criminal justice system, his suicide attempt, and his eventual death. There are three distinct sections: The Story of Ralph Tortorici, An Overview of Insanity on Trial, and The Jailed and Imprisoned Mentally Ill, followed by a Discussion of how the legal system should treat violent mentally ill offenders. The Story ... has an overview which looks at what happened the day Ralph took a classroom of students hostage (seriously wounding one) at the very university where he had sought medical treatment just over two years earlier. It also documents Ralph's history of mental illness, discusses his competency to stand trial, states the peoples' case against Ralph Tortorici, has the trial, verdict, sentencing, and other important information, including links to interviews of the trial judge, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, family members, a psychiatrist, and others relevant to the case. An Overview of Insanity ... looks at insanity defense frequently asked questions or faq's, summarizes notorious insanity cases, discusses the famous M'Naughten case where the defendant's knowledge of "right or wrong" is determined, John Hinckley, state insanity defense laws, and federal legislation concerning the mental health courts allowing non-violent inmates to be released from behind bars and into treatment programs. The Jailed and Imprisoned ... reports on the number of mentally ill inmates in America's jails and prisons and gives Department of Justice statistics along with analysis and recommendations. Additional links and other readings concerning the insanity defense and the mentally ill who are incarcerated are also made available, as are press reactions to the PBS story, tapes and transcripts that can be purchased for schools and teachers use, and a "chat" with the producers of "a crime of insanity" who interviewed Ralph's family and others for this documentary.
Type of Material:
Can be used in class or online for homework assignments, individual or group work, or, individual or group lectures.
Real Player, Safari, I.E.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
1. Explore the issues associated with insanity and the legal system
2. Compare the various tests used by the courts in different jurisdictions to determine competence and sanity.
3. Outline the roles played by various stakeholders in the legal system.
4. Compare the motivations of the various stakeholders in dealing with insanity.
5. Summarize the financial and human costs of current strategies for dealing with mentally ill citizens in the criminal justice system.
Target Student Population:
Lower level or higher level college or university student majoring in Counseling, Psychology, Psychiatry, Administration of Justice, Criminal Justice, Criminology, or any other Behavioral or Social Science program.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Basic Internet skills
For over 25 years, Frontline has served as "American public television's flagship public affairs series," and was thought to be "the last best hope for broadcast documentaries" upon its debut. This fact alone gives this site credibility and speaks of it validity and significance of contribution to the subject of the mentally ill. For the case of Ralph Tortorici, it appears to accurately portray his struggles with mental illness. Court documents including Ralph's history of delusions, a psychiatrist's letter stating that Tortorici was "not mentally capable of standing trial," interviews with family members, witnesses for the state and for the defense, and both defense and prosecution jury summations all point to the accuracy of information provided.
This is a clear, complete, and concise collection of materials in a variety of media. An exceptionally well balanced presentation of ideas and opinions from a comprehensive sampling of stakeholders and experts.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The site engages the learner with a strong sense of interest in how the mentally ill are dealt with while incarcerated. It engages the senses with not only photographs and text, but with audio and video of the defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, and a psychiatrist, who visited Ralph Tortorici in jail prior to trial in their attempt not to justify whether or not they could go to trial, but rather, whether or not they "should" go to trial after witnessing the severe psychotic state Ralph was in. The site facilitates learning by giving actual documentation and witness testimony of their personal experiences with someone who is suffering from severe mental illness.
Learning objectives are not clearly stated, and the user must get well into the material before determining whether he or she has the requisite prior knowledge to be comfortable with the material.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The diversity of presentation methods make the material readily accessible to all learning styles. The breadth of information makes the site useful to students and professionals alike. The website is easy to understand and use, easy to navigate through to various pages and links, and all of the links work
It is not interactive in the sense that there is a live interaction as one might find in a tutorial with quizzes or gaming scenarios as assessments, but the sit is engaging enough to easily keep the users interest focused.
Other Issues and Comments:
The audio on the video link was very low on my Mac. I had to turn the volume all the way up, put headphones on and really concentrate on hearing what was said. I do not know if this is a "Mac" problem or not, since the PC that I typically use is in the shop.
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