Litigating Race in Civil Commitment Cases

Susan Stefan, J.D., and Kwamena Blankson, J.D.

This workshop will examine the reality of structural racism in civil commitment cases and the challenges of raising that reality in individual commitment hearings. It will discuss the growing research on racial disparities in detentions, forensic evaluations, restraints and commitments, and how to translate that research into the courtroom. Paradoxically, one possible avenue arises out of the growing trend of using civil beds for forensic evaluations of criminal defendants. Attempts to raise race in commitment cases in Massachusetts and Connecticut will be discussed as well as strategies that might work in other states.


  • Attendees will become familiar with research on racial disparities in involuntary commitments and restraints, as well as the emerging law challenging race discrimination in traffic stops and how it might translate to the civil commitment setting.
  • Attendees will also be able to identify specific barriers to raising implicit bias in civil commitment hearings and potential ways to overcome these barriers.