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Psychiatric imprisonment refers to the involuntary imprisonment of people in psychiatric institution on the grounds that they are considered psychiatrically insane. In many countries, people behaving in such a way considered insane by a judge can be put into a mental institution without trial. Critics argue that an open society based on freedom and personal responsibility has no room for treatment of this nature.

In some countries, activities such as homosexuality and adultery can result in such imprisonment. In countries such as the former U.S.S.R., and modern day China such facilities were, or currently are, routinely used to imprison and "treat" dissidents. Currently in China "political harm to society" is legally a dangerous mental disorder and the authorities are instructed to arrest those who make anti-government speeches, write reactionary letters or "express opinions on important domestic and international affairs".

There are also claims that in North Korea, Canada and the U.S.A., amongst others, that similar events are going on on a smaller scale. It is part of both the criminal justice and hospital systems in the countries in which it happens, and it often has an ambiguous relationship to these.

Dr. Thomas Szasz argued that while these practices may have begun as an alternative to punishment, specifically retributive justice, in the U.S.A. they had become by the 1960s a means of defining mere differences as illnesses.


Black Hands of Beijing: Lives of Defiance in China's Democracy Movement, by George Black and Robin Munro (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993

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