“Forensic psychiatry is the link between psychiatry and the criminal justice system,” says Antonius, associate professor of psychiatry. “Anybody who is getting involved in the criminal justice system with a mental health diagnosis is who we take care of.”
Antonius came to UB in 2011 with a clear mission.
“There was no forensic division when I came here. These types of divisions are typically created and established when the department chair says ‘let’s go.’ Over the years we’ve been able to expand our contracts and hire more people,” Antonius says.
Antonius oversees a staff that includes psychologists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners involved in forensic clinical and research work within the adult and juvenile populations.
“Forensic psychiatry is an old “new” field. It’s been around forever, because we’ve had mentally ill people in the justice system for a very long time,” Antonius says. “It’s a field where there have been only a select few who have been identified as forensic psychiatrists or psychologists, but it has been expanding rapidly. Part of that is the fascination with criminal behavior — maybe give Hollywood a little bit of the credit for that.”
“It’s interesting, and it’s a field with expanding opportunities. You no longer just work in a jail, or you just do expert testimony. You do a little of both — or you can do clinical practice,” Antonius says.
It’s also a field you can get involved in at any level of your studies.
“We always have a number of trainees — undergraduate and graduate students, doctoral students, residents, fellows and medical students — in our program,” Antonius says.
The division provides services to the Erie County Correctional Facility, Erie County Holding Center, Erie County Youth Services Center and the Erie County Medical Center.
“At any given time, 60 to 70 percent of inmates have psychiatric problems, not including the general stress of being involved with the legal system. And a large percentage of them need medications and other types of treatment, therapy, counseling services and discharge planning,” Antonius says.
“We also provide forensic examinations for the court system. That could be attorneys who are asking for an evaluation on a client — either on the defense side or the prosecution side — or it could be a judge who has some concerns about a defendant,” he adds. “We do about 600 to 700 competency examinations a year. We have a great collaborative relationship with Erie County to provide services for them, both in the adult system and in the juvenile system..”
Antonius earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stony Brook University and master’s degrees in general psychology and forensic psychology from the New School for Social Research and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, respectively. He earned his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research.
“I was always a researcher by heart. I was always interested in trying to understand why people do the things they do,” Antonius says.
He seems to have found his calling in a specific segment of the mental health system.
“In a way, we’re a cog in the wheel of a larger system. It’s rewarding in its own way to work in that system and be an important part in that system,” Antonius says. “We have had a number of clients who come and say ‘you saved us’ with the number of services that we provide in jail.”