UMass Law students helping to protect rights of mental health patients

Students at UMass Law conducting research project on rights of mental health patients

UMass Law students are assisting the Mental Health Litigation Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services by conducting research to protect the rights of mental health patients subject to conditional voluntary admission to a mental health facility. The research focuses on whether current practices ensure that mental health patients have the information required to knowingly and voluntarily waive their rights, and are not compelled to waive their rights by threat of involuntary commitment. The group's research efforts are part of the UMass Law's Community Research Project, the third semester of the law school's required Legal Skills Program.

In Fall 2013 the class worked on a similar project for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, in an effort to reform Massachusetts law governing short-term involuntary admissions.. The class researched whether the current procedures violated patients' rights to due process under the state and federal constitutions, and whether those procedures were consistent with the federal law governing mental health insurance coverage. Their research addressed concerns that patients can be detained indefinitely at the outset of the involuntary admission process while they wait for a bed to open up in a mental health facility. Some patients may wait for days, or even weeks, with no access to judicial review or psychiatric r treatment, which may violate their due process rights

The Community Research Project is the third semester of the required Legal Skills Program at UMass Law. The project allows students to work in teams to solve real-world problems for legal services agencies by performing research and analysis for the agency. The course's team-based learning model has generated high levels of student engagement.

The Community Research Project advances UMass Law's mission by integrating skills training and public service, teaching skills and values in real-world context, and developing skills in problem solving, collaboration, and organization of legal work. In addition to serving the Committee for Public Counsel Services Mental Health Litigation Division, students in the course are helping the Youth Advocacy Division protect juveniles' right to counsel in delinquency proceedings, and helping the Children and Family Law Division protect the rights of children and parents involved in care and protection cases.

UMass Law, located at UMass Dartmouth, is the only public law school in Massachusetts. The law school was established in 2010 to provide a high quality, affordable legal education focused on creating justice-centered lawyers. UMass Law is especially committed to increasing the diversity of those who practice law in the Commonwealth and encouraging students to become professionally engaged in their community through pro bono service, clinics, and internships while they study.

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