Symposium discusses law failing the mentally ill

Two organizations at Wayne State University Law School will present a symposium about mental illness on Friday, March 21.

The Journal of Law in Society, in partnership with the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, will present its 2014 symposium, "Forgotten from the Start: The Law's Failing of the Urban Mentally Ill."

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. in Wayne Law's Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium. To register, email Parking will be available for $6.50 (credit or debit cards only - no cash) in Structure 1 across West Palmer Street from the law school.

The symposium will examine the isolation and stigmatization of mental illness within societal structures to shed light on a larger narrative about how cultural norms, institutions and administrative structures fail to adequately address the needs of the mentally ill community.

"This year's symposium will explore an important issue which touches most of us in one way or another, yet is often overlooked by our society," said The Journal of Law in Society Editor-in-Chief Ardiola Sinaj. "We hope that the symposium will serve as a forum to discuss the ways in which we can learn from institutional failures and better address the needs of people who are mentally ill."

Law Professor Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School will deliver the morning keynote address. Dr. Patricia Erickson, co-author of Crime, Punishment and Mental Illness and the Behavioral Sciences in Conflict, will deliver the afternoon keynote address. Three panels of local experts will focus on different aspects of the treatment of mental illness in our society.

"We are ecstatic to put together a symposium that focuses on an issue as pervasive as mental illness," Symposium Director Eric Shovein said. "We believe that not enough conversations are taking place to alleviate the stigma of people deemed 'mentally ill' in our community. There is a need for both local and national discourse with the aim towards making our society better equipped to serve such a widespread demographic. We believe hosting this symposium is an important step in achieving that goal."

The first panel will discuss disparities in mental health aid in the Detroit school system. State Sen. Rebekah Warrant, D-Ann Arbor; Tom Watkins, director of the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Authority; and Mark McWilliams, director of information, referral and education services of Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service Inc., will all shed light on issues surrounding the treatment of mental health in our education system.

The second panel will address gun control, background checks and public safety. Columnist Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press, Professor April Zeoli of the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice and Jeff Brown, director of the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, will analyze how the media's inclusion of mental illness in the public safety context further contributes to its stigmatization in society.

The third panel will examine mental illness, the criminal justice system and laws about diminished capacity. Mark Munetz, the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation Endowed Chair in Psychiatry at Northeast Ohio Medical University; William Healphy, deputy chief of diversion at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office; and Natalie Holbrook, program director of the American Friends Service Committee's Criminal Justice Program, will examine the disproportionate number of people with mental illness who are placed in the prison system instead of receiving the mental health aid they deserve.

For the complete symposium schedule, visit For more details, email Shovein at

Published: Tue, Mar 11, 2014


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