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Book Review   |    
The Mentally Disordered Inmate and the Law
Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2000; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.51.3.397
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by Fred Cohen, LL.B., LL.M; Kingston, New Jersey, Civic Research Institute, 1998, 584 pages, $98.95

Long before the nationwide rash of class action litigation, Fred Cohen was writing about the rights of prisoners, especially those with diagnoses of serious mental illness. The Mentally Disordered Inmate and the Law is Cohen's latest effort in this area, and it is characteristically comprehensive and well written.

The volume is essentially an updated and expanded version of Cohen's well-received Legal Issues and the Mentally Disordered Prisoner (1), published in 1988. But the update and expansion were sorely needed, as a great deal has changed in the legal landscape in relation to mentally ill prisoners in the past decade. Several important cases, notably Coleman v. Wilson, Madrid v. Gomez, and, to a lesser extent, Casey v. Lewis, have expanded and clarified the rights of mentally ill prisoners and the duties of the people who control their lives.

Overall, the book features a highly useful layout and structure, and it is well edited. It is easy to find information relevant to any question, and the citations the author provides are accurate, complete, and up to date.

I especially appreciate Cohen's treatment of Turner v. Safely, which was as important to corrections as Youngberg v. Romeo was to psychiatric hospitals. Cohen also addresses, head-on, several important dilemmas. For example, an inmate who behaves in an odd and angry manner may be developing a mental illness, aggressing against the prison milieu, or both. Cohen's admonition that "it should not be assumed that this inmate is 'mad' or 'bad'" may seem obvious to clinicians, but it very much needs to be said to judges and lawyers.

In a final gift to his readers, Cohen includes extensive relevant portions of the decisions in Casey, Coleman, and Madrid as well as the actual consent decree in Dunn v. Voinovich. These thoughtful inclusions will save any reader a great deal of time, as the cases are essential to an understanding of this area.

Make no mistake about it: Professor Cohen does not pretend to be a clinician, and this book will not tell clinicians how to practice their craft in correctional settings. The book is unabashedly legal, but it benefits others besides lawyers who litigate in this area. It gives clinicians—and, perhaps more important, administrators—a very clear and welcome set of legal rules and structures within which they can practice, with perhaps some degree of assurance that their efforts might be judged fairly by the courts.

It may be ironic to observe that the expansion and clarification of the rights of inmates to mental health services is of great benefit to clinicians and administrators. But it is impossible to practice effectively in correctional settings without knowing the rules of engagement. To that end, The Mentally Disordered Inmate and the Law will be of great value to anyone who wishes to work in the rapidly expanding world of correctional mental health.

Dr. Dvoskin is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and assistant adjunct professor at the University of Arizona College of Law.

Cohen F: Legal Issues and the Mentally Disordered Prisoner. Washington, DC, National Institute of Corrections, 1988
 
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References

Cohen F: Legal Issues and the Mentally Disordered Prisoner. Washington, DC, National Institute of Corrections, 1988
 
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