Like the controversial Dr. Szasz, Ennis has no use for mental institutions, but as director of the New York Civil Liberties...


PRISONERS OF PSYCHIATRY: Mental Patients, Psychiatrists and the Law

Like the controversial Dr. Szasz, Ennis has no use for mental institutions, but as director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Mental Hygiene Litigation Project his concern is not so much with the proper relationship between law and psychiatry (although he does deplore the subjectivity of psychiatric judgments) as with providing the protections of due process for mental patients who presently have fewer rights than criminals. For instance, they may languish indefinitely in institutions whereas even convicted criminals know the limits of their sentences. Ennis concludes with the suggestion that even a modest extension of patients' rights to include mandatory assignment of counsel and judicial hearings on commitment would cause the breakdown of the system of involuntary hospitalization. Citing studies that mental patients are less dangerous as a group than the ""average"" citizen, he advocates outpatient care with limited periods of incarceration for only those few who are dangerous to society. He points to California's experience with a new law limiting involuntary hospitalization to those who have committed dangerous acts as evidence that even the few who must be hospitalized can be quickly returned to the community. The legal and social issues are presented through vivid case histories of mental patients who have been Ennis' clients. Teddy Neely, for example, would have been condemned to spend his life in a hospital for the criminally insane as legally incompetent to prove his innocence of murder; however, Ennis won a judicial decision that incompetence suspends proceedings against a defendant but not by him, permitting Neely's motion to dismiss the indictment for insufficient evidence. Other cases include attacks on forced labor by institutionalized patients, on regulations that their assets be turned over to guardians (who often drain the estate), and on ""warehouse"" institutions that fail to provide therapy. Ennis also discusses legal approaches to the stigma that makes it difficult for former mental patients to find work or continue their education. His analysis is radical and he makes a strong case for changing the laws that deprive mental patients of fundamental rights.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972