Conservatorship: Inside California’s System of Coercion and Care for Mental Illness

Part of the California Spotlight Series

a homeless encampment in california

Please join us in-person or on Zoom on Monday, March 18 for a discussion of Alex V. Barnard’s new book, Conservatorship: Inside California’s System of Coercion and Care for Mental Illness. The book analyzes conservatorship, a legal system used to take legal guardianship over individuals deemed unable to meet their own basic needs. This controversial system, which has come under fire from civil liberties and disability rights groups, is at the center of state policies for mental illness, homelessness, and addiction. Through interviews with policy makers, professionals, families, and conservatees, Barnard shows how the system operates, and its many shortcomings. 

At this California Spotlight event, Professor Barnard will be joined by Lauren Rettagliata, whose comments on her lived experience of the system will complement his discussion of his research. The discussion will be moderated by Jonathan Simon, Lance Robbins Professor of Criminal Justice Law at Berkeley Law.

Co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI), Department of Sociology, and the Center for the Study of Law and Society.



Alex V. Barnard is an assistant professor of sociology at NYU, holding a PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley. His work examines cross-national differences in the trajectory of people with severe mental illness between different institutions of care and control. His book, Conservatorship: Inside California’s System of Coercion and Care for Mental Illness was published by Columbia University Press in 2023. He is currently working on another book, tentatively titled, Mental States: Ordering Psychiatric Disorder in France.


Lauren Rettagliata is the mom of four sons, the oldest has Autism, the youngest has Schizophrenia. Almost five decades ago, she worked on committees that formulated federal legislation that ensconced into federal law protection for a free appropriate education for all children. Lauren found herself back home in California at the time her youngest son was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. The world changed for her. She had to search the streets and delta for her son who spent many years homeless and fell into drug addiction. Her son has been conserved. Lauren’s advocacy now centers around Housing That Heals.



Jonathan Simon joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2003 as part of the J.D., JSP, and Legal Studies programs. He teaches in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, criminology, legal studies and the sociology of law. Simon’s scholarship concerns the role of crime and criminal justice in governing contemporary societies, risk and the law, and the history of the interdisciplinary study of law. His published works include over seventy articles and book chapters, and three single authored monographs, including: Poor Discipline: Parole and the Social Control of the Underclass (University of Chicago 1993, winner of the American Sociological Association’s sociology of law book prize, 1994), Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (Oxford University Press 2007, winner of the American Society of Criminology, Hindelang Award 2010) and Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America (New Press 2014).



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