Policy, Practice and the Challenges of Reform: Case Study from a US Mental Health Court

Paul Brodwin PhD, Professor, Anthropology, UW-Milwuakee

This presentation describes the landscape of institutional reform at the overlap of criminal justice and mental services, and is based on a two years study of a “mental health court:” a specialty court designed to minimize the incarceration of people with severe mental illness. The questions examined in this research include (1) how an explicit ethical imperative (preventing such people from languishing untreated in jails and prisons) become translated into policy reforms, and (2) how that policy is enacted in face-to-face encounters with some of the most marginalized members of our society. At a theoretical level, I study how “care” manifests in the self-conscious agenda for reform as well as the practices of public sector professionals.