Criminal Courts Turn Out to be Havens of Rationality and Civility in Comparison
I am a forensic psychiatrist and expert on violence with more than twenty years of experience in many courtrooms as an expert witness, in many prisons providing professional services, and consulting with state and federal governments on criminal justice reform. I have professionally consulted with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the World Economic Forum, and many other national and international entities.
The courses I taught at Yale Law School include “Immigration Legal Services,” “Prison Clinic,” “Criminal Justice Clinic,” and “Veterans Legal Services.” The ones I taught at Yale College include “Causes and Cures of Violence” and “Violent States and Creative States,” and at Yale School of Public Health, “Global Violence and Public Health.” This semester, I will be teaching, “Rethinking Violence: The Role of Religion, Spirituality, and Creativity,” at Union Theological Seminary.
I have written over 100 peer-reviewed articles and chapters, edited 17 scholarly books and journal special issues, and authored the textbook, Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures, published by Wiley-Blackwell. I have been invited to co-found a Violence Prevention Institute at Union Theological Seminary with luminaries from the fields of psychiatry, criminal justice, sociology, and religion. My career has been richly rewarding in understanding human violence in all domains, how to prevent it from a public health perspective, and how to heal it at the spiritual level. I have come a long way from my days of growing up in the Bronx, New York, wondering what I could do to help curb the violence I saw all around me.
Now, as never before, I have come to encounter violence intimately, this time in my personal life. I never imagined I would find myself involved in such concerns as I am now. But it so happens that while I was traveling around the world trying to prevent violence in Rwanda, in Ivory Coast, and in the New York City jails, I missed what was happening in my own family. Nor did I ever before imagine what I would find out about the serious problem in the family courts and the extremely dangerous situations children are placed in “legally” by miscreant and corrupt judges and the aberrant “psychiatric” interpretations they make to justify their actions. This includes with regard to my family a judge declaring a diagnosed psychopathic parent “sane” while punishing and even threatening to incarcerate the parent who is trying to protect her children, all without proper consultation with relevant experts or a full review of the evidence involved. Previously very happy and completely well-adjusted children in a nurturing home environment have thus become endangered and suicidal.
I will provide more details of what I have now personally experienced but first let me describe the overall situation in our country that even I was not previously aware of.
Every day in our country 1 or 2 children are murdered by their parents. Almost 20% of these children were forcibly placed by family courts with the abusive parent in contested child custody cases. This number is most certainly an underestimate, as it does not include suicides by children for whom court-mandated “custody” under the abusive parent has become too unbearable. For every death, there are dozens of serious injuries, and preventable psychic suffering for many thousands of children. This happens because, rather than believing the protective parent — usually mothers, whose rate of false reports is less than 2% — courts routinely treat them as false reporters, punish them, deny them visitation, and even imprison them. The true offender, usually the father, not only goes free but is rewarded with custody in almost 3 out of 4 such cases. Knowing this, fathers previously uninvolved with their children use custody challenges to torment mothers trying to escape their abuse, for hurting the child hurts the mother.
The judge, Jane Gallina-Mecca, whom I have personally encountered in New Jersey, is the most contemptuous of the law and the most grossly abusive of her judicial powers I have seen in my career in and out of civil and criminal courts. The Washington Post already reported on her First Amendment violations, and Bergen Dispatch reminded her of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But we have now witnessed due process violations, civil rights violations, obstruction of investigations, witness intimidation, and, like her other cases, gag orders “without any evidentiary hearing.” This is how, within weeks of a father with a dangerous psychiatric diagnosis and with an extensive history of abuse filing for custody, the Judge was able to step in and arbitrarily declare the mother “mentally ill” without basis, to reverse all charges against the father, and to order full custody transfer to him — without a single evidentiary hearing. Apparently, the outcome of her cases is very predictable, as she favors the perpetrator of abuse: a judicially-generated crisis implies an influx of income, since a caring parent would give anything to rescue her children.
A few years ago, I felt the professional as well societal obligation to speak up about what I and my colleagues understood to be a national emergency. After holding a conference at Yale, I was asked to edit the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, which became an unprecedented New York Times bestseller of its kind and raised the issue to the number one topic of national conversation within months. Thousands of mental health professionals from around the globe joined me to form the World Mental Health Coalition. Many say we brought the word “dangerous” into discourse in relation to the former president, and as a consequence prepared the nation better than it might otherwise have been.
Now, I have decided to speak up about a national emergency regarding our children. Whether it involves the president of the United States (who famously separated thousands of children from their caregivers at the U.S.-Mexico border) or my own brother-in-law (who ruthlessly endangers his children with the assistance of family courts), there is a public health crisis that requires national awareness. Part of this awareness is the observation I have made throughout my quarter-century career: that the psychiatric disorder I was trained to treat in jails and prisons — sociopathy — is increasingly prevalent in executive positions, be they CEO’s, judges, politicians, or presidents.
What I have personally experienced is not unique, but my professional experience and education make it possible for me to evaluate it with perspective. As I also learn from other professionals involved with the family courts, I am provided an extraordinary glimpse into a situation that requires urgent investigation and intervention by those responsible for overseeing the proper functioning of our courts.