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Molissa Farber

Worthwhile Pursuits

By James Vescovi

Winter 2009

As a child, Molissa Farber ’11 had a bedtime of 8 p.m.—except when she was allowed to stay up late and watch Law & Order. The television show helped spur an interest in criminal law that she has brought with her to Columbia Law School.

Farber also brings M.S. in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 2006, she published a highly regarded paper in the Yale Journal of Sociology. The article was based on an internship she completed with the Mental Health Division of the Public Defender’s office in Washington, D.C. A Yale undergraduate at the time, Farber logged many hours observing patients and staff in an involuntary ward at a psychiatric hospital.

The staff was struggling with new regulations that restricted dispensing medication to patients who refused it. Consequently, when patients became unruly, nurses began to feel trapped—and often tried to regain control of patients by administering sedatives by injection.

“The staff exhibited the same approach as police patrolling a bad neighborhood,” says Farber. “They’d had little say in the new regulations and felt handcuffed by them.”

Farber wants to begin her career in litigation, but eventually plans to focus on criminal justice issues. She hopes to help create community courts and drug courts with input from both civil libertarians and those with a more recidivist approach to crime.  

“The stakes are high,” she says, “and that motivates me.”