Trapped: The Limits of Care in California’s Mental Health Courts

Jessica Cooper, Anthropology

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 12:00pm
438 Robertson Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Abstract: "Mental health courts (MHCs) — specialized criminal courtrooms in which legal and clinical professionals collaborate to provide mental health care to defendants — stand on the front lines of California’s initiative to release mentally ill inmates from jail and manage them in the community. Based on two years of fieldwork in Californian MHC, this article grapples with interpersonal relationships that are forged under a rubric of carceral care. Like the defendants to whom they provide care, court professionals feel trapped by state’s dearth of social services. The shared sense of being trapped fosters care between professionals and defendants, but does nothing to provide professionals of the material resources needed to act upon promises to help."

Jessica Cooper
Ph.D. Candidate, Department Of Anthropology

Jessica Cooper is a fifth year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology. Her dissertation examines the systems of evidence and ethics practiced in two mental health courts in Northern California. Mental health courts are novel criminal courtrooms that aspire to move criminal offenders with psychiatric diagnoses out of jails and into community mental health programs that are provided and overseen by the courtroom. In ethnographically documenting the practices of everyday life in two mental health courts and the clinics with which they collaborate, the dissertation explores how social relationships oriented around care between courtroom professionals and offenders both are influenced by and direct criminal justice reform. Jessica holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. She is presently a Laurance S. Rockefeller Graduate Prize Fellow at the Princeton University Center for Human Values.