Mental Health Courts

Mental Health Court: The Strengths

With half a million individuals with mental illness incarcerated at any given time, the need for services within the criminal justice system goes beyond humane treatment of mentally ill offenders; it becomes an issue of money, and, like it or not, that is where your average citizen becomes interested.

Mental Health Courts

Mental Health Court: What is it?

Mental health courts are a fairly new institution in the United States. They are courts designed to meet the needs of mentally ill offenders. Similar to drug courts that address substance abusing offenders, mental health courts focus on treatment, rather than punishment.

Forensic Psychology

Vulnerable Populations and the Legal System

"It is an article of jailhouse faith that poor people get what they pay for in lawyers: Nothing." A recent article in the New York Times gives an inside look at how vulnerable populations (the poor, the mentally ill, etc.) are treated within the legal system.

The article details one woman's encounters with a public defender's office; however, her situation is not unique. Low salaries and high caseloads often permeate public defenders' offices, contributing to the problem of unbalanced representation for disadvantaged individuals.

Neuroscience and Forensic Psychology

MIT Researchers Find the Location of Morality in the Brain

Researchers at MIT have recently discovered more details about the "moral center" of the brain. They've identified the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VmPC)--the same part of the brain that deals with emotions--as the morality area of the brain.

Individuals who have damage to this part of their brain are more likely to have difficulty engaging in moral reasoning. So, when they are presented with imaginary situations in which one person intentionally attempts to kill another person, individuals with damage to this area of the brain do not find the attempted murderer to be at fault.

Forensic Psychology

False Confessions: Can Psychological Theories Improve Interrogation Techniques?

A false confession is an admission to a crime that the confessor did not commit. The February 2010 edition of the Law and Human Behavior journal, released by the American-Psychology Law Society, has an interesting "white paper" (a report that addresses issues and makes suggestions on how to solve them) on police-induced confessions (Abstract).

The authors of this study review current police interrogation methods and laws surrounding admissibility of confession evidence in court. They apply their awareness of psychological principles to examine false confessions.

The Brain of a Psychopath: Using fMRI Technology to Detect Brain Abnormalities, Part II

In my last post, I discussed how Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, is using fMRI technology to detect brain abnormalities in people with psychopathy. His participants are prison inmates who score high on the PCL-R, a psychodiagnostic measure used to assess psychopathy. Once he determines that the participant is, in fact, a psychopath based on their PCL-R score, he takes scans of their brains using an fMRI to determine if there are brain differences between psychopathic participants and normal controls. He has found defects in the paralimbic system that he believes relate to psychopathy.

Interestingly, Dr. Kiehl's research is being used by perpetrators to avoid prison or to reduce sentencing. One such case has plagued the Chicago area for over two decades. Brian Dugan, a 52-year-old man with a 13-year crime spree, including murders, rapes, arson, and burglaries, spanning the 1970s and 80s finally went to trial for his crimes in late 2009. For those interested in death penalty laws, this case has a lot of history, and contributed to the moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois due to the wrongful conviction of three men for one of the murders (Jeanine Nicarico) that Dugan committed.

The Brain of a Psychopath: Using fMRI Technology to Detect Brain Abnormalities, Part I

Neuroscience is a fascinating field, yet one that I often find confusing to navigate. Interestingly, there has been some research in recent years attempting to find the coordinates of psychopathy within the brain. Interviews and articles about Dr. Kent Kiehl, in which he discusses his research using fMRI technology in an attempt to target the brain region involved in psychopathy, help break down the research into more manageable terminology.

Dr. Kiehl has identified a defect in the “the paralimbic system, a network of brain regions, stretching from the orbital frontal cortex to the posterior cingulate cortex, that are involved in processing emotion, inhibition, and attentional control" as the causes for psychopathy. Psychopathy is characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, along with severe emotional detachment.

Gigi Jordan Requests Voluntary Psychiatric Commitment after Attempted Suicide/Murder

Gigi Jordan, pharmaceutical millionaire and New York City socialite, requested voluntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital in lieu of jail while awaiting trial in response to the February 5, 2010 murder of her 8-year-old son. Reports indicate that Ms. Jordan killed her son with some of the “thousands of pills” that were found in her hotel room after the murder.

Ms. Jordan left a suicide note, and apparently attempted suicide via overdose; however, she was not successful in her attempt--police found her semi-conscious, barricaded in her room, with furniture pushed up against the door to prevent entry. Reportedly, a rambling, paranoid 20-page note was submitted as evidence of her “spiral into psychosis.”