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October 19, 2007

Crazy justice:

Nov. 5 event at U-M will feature top experts discussing alternatives to “criminalization” of America’s mentally ill

ANN ARBOR, MI – Across America, prisons serve as an unofficial holding system for the mentally ill. Families desperate to get treatment for their loved ones’ psychiatric issues instead wind up retrieving them from the police station. And judges wrestle with the prospect of sentencing the same people again and again for minor offenses, instead of steering them to effective mental health programs.

These phenomena, and more, are part of the “criminizalization” of mental illness that has taken place in the United States in recent years, due to deinstitutionalization, lack of appropriate services, rigid legal systems and other factors.

On Monday, November 5, this problem, and possible solutions to it, will be the topic of a free public panel discussion at the University of Michigan. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., a group of experts will discuss these issues, and alternatives to keep the mentally ill out of the justice system and help them get appropriate care.

They will include Peter Earley, a former Washington Post reporter whose book Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness chronicles his own son’s experience with mental illness and the justice system.

Titled “New Directions in Public Policy: Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System”, the event is co-sponsored by the U-M Depression Center and Avalon Housing, a non-profit housing agency that serves mentally ill clients and many others.

It will take place in the auditorium of the Rachel Upjohn Building, home to the Depression Center and the U-M Department of Psychiatry’s outpatient psychiatry and substance abuse clinics. The building is at 4250 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, on the U-M Health System’s East Medical Campus. A brief reception will follow.

In addition to Earley, the other panelists are:

State Senator Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor), who has worked to improve both the mental health and justice systems in Michigan as a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Judiciary and Corrections, and has received several awards for her work on behalf of the mentally ill.

Deb Pippins, the Program Administrator for Washtenaw County’s Justice Project Outreach Team, Home Project Outreach Team and mental health services in the county jail. These programs, which help mentally ill individuals who are not yet receiving treatment but are homeless or have come in contact with the justice system, have been recognized as exemplary on the national level.

William Cardasis, M.D., F.A.P.A., Director of the Admissions Unit at the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry, a 210-bed psychiatric facility that provides diagnostic and treatment services to the criminal justice system. He is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at U-M, and a private-practice forensic psychiatrist.

Written by Kara Gavin

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