Two-Day Conference to Focus on Mental Health, Violence and Community

January 29, 2008
January 29, 2008 — The Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia will present a two-day conference on "Violence and the Community" on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville.

The sessions, intended for advanced forensic evaluators and not open to the public, will look at managing violent psychopaths, analyzing the shootings at Virginia Tech and studying psychiatric testimony at terrorism trials.

"The image of the psychopathic criminal is popular in the media and a source of intrigue to many," said Janet I. Warren, a professor in U.Va.'s Department of Psychiatric Medicine and the organizer of the event. "It has also been studied rigorously and we now have international research showing a way to predict violent behavior."

The conference opens at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 31 with a full-day workshop on "Treating and Managing Psychopathy: An Innovative Perspective and Risk Assessment and Risk Management in Community Corrections," conducted by Jennifer Skeem, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California at Irvine.

Skeem's research offers a pivotal new approach to containing violent behavior using a combination of treatment, sustained supervision and long-term management. Her research is designed to inform clinical and legal decision-makers about individuals with mental illness, including understanding psychopathic personality disorder, assessing and treating violence risk, and identifying factors that influence the outcomes of mandated psychiatric treatment.

"This research will be instrumental to all professionals working with violent psychopaths and central to programs and policies to lower risk and ensure safety in our communities," Warren said.

Skeem's workshop will be followed on Feb. 1 by two panel discussions at the Omni Hotel.

The first, "Reflections Upon the Virginia Tech Tragedy," starts at 9:30 a.m. Panelists include Roger Depue, a member of the Virginia Tech Review Panel and the retired chief of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit; Dr. James Reinhard, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services; and U.Va. law professor Richard Bonnie, chairman of the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform and director of U.Va.'s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy.

"Over time, the Virginia Tech shootings have touched many people, especially the families of those who were killed and wounded," Warren said. "It has also sent shock waves throughout Virginia and caused universities across the country to examine their own vulnerabilities and readiness to respond to this type of situation."

The panel will examine the lead-up to the shootings, the warning signs and where there could have been interventions.

"The Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy will bring together, for the first time, three people whose positions and expertise requires them to reflect upon what happened, what systems failed to protect innocent lives, and what might be done to ensure that this will not occur again," Warren said.

The second panel is "Prosecution of a Terrorist: The Case of Abu Ali," starting at 1:30 p.m. Panelists include Dr. Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the Critical Incident Analysis Group at the University of Virginia, and David Laufman of the Kelley, Drye, Collier and Shannon law firm; The panelists will examine expert psychiatric testimony in terrorism prosecutions.

The sessions are jointly sponsored by Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, and the Office of Continuing Medical Education of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, with assistance from the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

The two-day event is closed to the public, but the media is invited. For information or to cover the event, call (434) 924-5126.