Dirks-Linhorst’s mental health advocacy research lands her “Going Award”

SIUE’s Professor Ann Dirks-Linhorst’s Sociology and Criminal Justice research consists of “educating and removing the stigma associated with mental illness and seeing not just the diagnosis, but the person.”

2013 William and Margaret Professorship Award recipient, Prof. Ann Dirks-Linhorst

For such work, Dirks-Linhorst has received the 2013 William and Margaret Going Professorship Award. The SIUE award recognizes faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences who have outstanding scholarly accomplishments or who are engaged in exceptional creative activity. Dirks-Linhorst will receive a $5,000 stipend as part of the award.

Chair of the SIUE Sociology and Criminal Justice Department, Prof. Kevin Cannon, said about Dirks-Linhorst’s work, “I think she’s established excellent research that has proven herself to be one of the leaders in her field connecting the mental health system and the criminal justice system.”

Dirks-Linhorst, who has been funded internally by seven grants  totaling more than $20,000, since joining SIUE faculty in 2003, said, “I was absolutely thrilled and honored to be the recipient of the Going Award. I appreciate SIUE’s support of my research agenda.”

She found this particular calling after law school when she worked as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Missouri representing the Department of Mental Health. In addition, when her uncle was diagnosed with a mental disorder, her interest in these issues grew.

Dirks-Linhorst believes the topic of her research, “The Intersection of Criminal Justice and Mental Health Issues,” is important, especially when examining the Aurora, Colorado, shooter and Newtown shooter insanity issue pleas.

She has been studying the cases of people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) and hopes her research would help educate the public about what it really means to have an insanity defense granted.

Dirks-Linhorst uses the current case of the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting defendant to illustrate that when a defendant attempts to use the insanity defense, “often the public believes that person is not being punished, or held accountable, for their criminal behavior. The public may not know that often the defendant is committed indefinitely to a psychiatric hospital, and released only by court order,” said Dirks-Linhorst.

She said that what the media says about the insanity defense may not be the full story, and that there is not a lot of information on the insanity defense.

According to Dirks-Linhorst, quite a lot of NGRI’s are attempted, but few are successful.

“It’s very important for the public to know that just because an individual has mental illness, it does not mean that they automatically qualify for an insanity defense,” said Dirks-Linhorst.

She said the most well-known example involved John Hinckley who shot then President Ronald Reagan during the early 1980s. Hinckley was found (NGRI) and was committed indefinitely to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where he remains to this day.

Dirks-Linhorst said that the concept of an insanity defense has been acknowledged for more than 2,000 years, but she adds it has been researched significantly more since Hinckley’s case.

Dirks-Linhorst believes it is important to use the research in her classes to share with students.

“I think the scholarly work informs my teaching. It’s very practical research work…What is defined as a crime to punish offenders, and how do we assure that the criminal justice system is fair and impartial?” Dirks-Linhorst said.

“She’s an excellent colleague and classroom teacher who’s brought her expertise into the classroom by teaching one of the first courses in the country on the criminal justice system and mental health system,” said Cannon.

Dirks-Linhorst has published numerous scholarly journal articles, written book chapters and technical reports and presented on the national, state and local levels educating the public about these criminal justice issues. Much of her published research has been collaborative work with her husband, Dr. Donald Linhorst, Director of the School of Social Work at St. Louis University.

Dr. Aldemaro Romero, Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Dr. Dirks-Linhorst is an outstanding scholar who has used her professional experience in the areas of mental health in the criminal justice system and other areas such as juvenile justice to illuminate her academic work. She is extremely accomplished. Further, as Director of the Pre-Law Program at SIUE she has provided excellent advice to all of our students interested in pursuing a law career, regardless of their academic background. She certainly deserves all this recognition from SIUE.”

Within the next academic year, Dirks-Linhorst will hold a public presentation on SIUE campus titled, “Mentally Ill Offenders and the Criminal Justice Systems,” which will include a panel of local professionals who can comment on the topic. A date has not yet been set.


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