National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy


The Insanity Defense and its Relatives: at the Crux of the Mental Health and Prison Systems

Tina Minkowitz, J.D.


The insanity defense doesn’t sit well with many of us in principle, because it seems to excuse violent conduct based on mental health concepts that we find problematic.  Furthermore, we know that unlike other acquittals, not guilty by reason of insanity does not mean the person goes free – instead they go to forensic psychiatric institutions where in some jurisdictions they can be held for longer than the maximum sentence for the crime of which they were accused.  Yet, many people feel that the insanity defense has benefits that we should not give up, and that it is correct to recognize the influence of altered states of consciousness on the commission of a crime.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offers a non-discrimination lens that includes both formal equality and substantive equality.  What does the CRPD have to offer in examining the insanity defense from a human rights perspective?  Is it possible to have the benefits without the harm?

Goals and Objectives

1.      Gain an understanding of the CRPD provisions relevant to the insanity defense and related issues in the context of police encounters, court proceedings and rights of detainees

2.      Discuss underlying values and perspectives

3.      Examine potential alternatives to both prison and mental health systems.  


United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Link to brief presenter bio:

Tina Minkowitz, J.D.


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