Report from International Congress of Law and Mental Health
I am starting this blog entry in the beautiful courtyard entry to the New York University Law School. The sound of flowing water, the fresh green of the trees and the fine architecture make it a tranquil place to write. And it is nice and warm---a great break from the cold Melbourne winter! It is the last day of the International Congress of Law and Mental Health. There have been streams of exciting papers on therapeutic jurisprudence all week.
It has been inspiring to catch up with TJ friends and to meet others who I have not met before. In particular, it has been great to catch up with Bruce Winick and David Wexler, who I last saw in Perth in 2006.
The TJ papers have been delivered by judges, lawyers, academics and health and justice professionals from a wide range of countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan, Sweden and The Netherlands. It is most stimulating to have these broad cultural perspectives on the application of therapeutic jurisprudence to various areas of the justice system and beyond. It is also a sign of how influential TJ is becoming.
We have had papers on TJ and children, judging, legal practice, victims, social development, public health, legal education, problem-solving courts, mental health law, elder law, audio-visual materials and family law, amongst other topics. It has been a rich and stimulating five days.
I delivered a paper on whether problem-solving courts should be solution-oriented courts. My argument was that many courts that are said to take a problem-solving approach assert that they solve the problem rather than facilitating participants to solve the problems for themselves with the aid of the court team and community agencies. I suggested that the problem-solving rhetoric did not reflect findings in the behavioral science literature concerning how positive behavioural change happens. The literature stresses the importance of the work participants do independently of or in connection with therapeutic interventions in promoting change.
I also suggested that facilitating participants gaining an awareness of the underlying causes of their problems and empowering them to formulate and implement rehabilitation plans should be a fundamental component of drug courts, family violence courts, community courts, mental health courts and the like.
As with similar conferences, the time outside the conference sessions has been as almost as important as attending the sessions. Here one forges connections with others and gains insights into the different areas of TJ and similar approaches through dialogue with others attending the conference.
I have also managed to fit in a visit to the Red Hook Community Justice Center. If you come to New York, it is well worth visiting the Center. It is best to contact the Center for Court Innovation first to set up the visit ahead of time. Red Hook does wonderful work in the community. It has played a major part in lowering crime and improving the quality of life in the community in which it serves. The Center works with the local community and with participants to help address the underlying causes of crime. The dedication of the staff is evident, not only in the work they do at the Center but outside hours in such activities as mentoring juveniles and coaching Little League Baseball. It is a great model for how a community court should operate.
Coming into the Center’s courtroom was an interesting experience. It is far more informal and frenetic than an Australian court. However, it is targeted to the needs of the local community and is attuned to a different culture than the one I am used to.
I have also heard that the book “Non-Adversarial Justice” – which has chapters covering the areas coming under what Susan Daicoff calls the “comprehensive law movement” and their implications for courts, legal practice and legal education – has now been published. I am looking forward to seeing it when I get home given that I am a co-author of the book! For more details, see:
Anyway, it has been a most therapeutic 5 days in New York. There are many TJ-related, positive things happening in justice here, so it is most appropriate that the conference has been held here. And New York is one of my favorite cities---a happy coincidence!