February 2001 - Updated May 2004
Purpose and OriginsAlthough it is a relatively new field, mental health law has undergone major developments in the past decade, including landmark judicial decisions, dramatic legislative initiatives, and the publication of professional standards and guidelines in both criminal and civil law. All of these developments, however, have been predicated on plausible but untested assumptions about the mentally ill, their behavior, the service delivery system, and the law...and about how these elements affect one another.
The goal of the Research Network on Mental Health and the Law is to build the empirical foundation for the next generation of mental health laws -- laws that will assure the rights and the safety of individuals and of society. The Network has two overriding mandates: to develop new knowledge about the relationships between mental health and the law, and to turn that understanding into improved tools and criteria for evaluating individuals and making decisions that affect their lives.
The Network was created by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with a grant to the University of Virginia in 1988. The Network is directed by John Monahan. Richard Bonnie is a member of the Network. The Network accepts no unsolicited proposals for funding.
Major Program ElementsThe Network involves experts from the fields of clinical, developmental, and social psychology; sociology; psychiatry; law; and mental health administration and policy. The Network members, in turn, communicate and interact continually with interested groups, including legal and mental health scholars and practitioners, national and state policy-makers, and groups such as former mental patients and their family members.
The Network's studies are community- as well as clinic-based, and focus on pivotal issues facing the field of mental health law: the competence of mentally disordered people to make autonomous decisions in civil and in criminal law -- termed treatment competence and adjudicative competence, respectively; the violence risk that sometimes accompanies mental disorder; and the coercion that often characterizes interventions to redress incompetence or reduce risk. Several additional research topics, including mental disorder and work disability, were pursued in a more limited manner.
Last modified: Feb, 2001.