Summer Internship: Kings County/Queens County Criminal Court
Twenty-year-old Honors student Daniel Gabay nimbly climbs the stairs leading up to Queens County Criminal Court. A few steps away, two police officers escort a handcuffed red-shirted man, while what looks like a suited lawyer runs quickly up the stairs, talking on his cellphone.
As an intern in the court’s forensic psychology unit, Daniel never thought he’d pursue psychology. “I always planned on taking the medical school route, becoming a physician. I volunteered at hospitals, conducted research in biology, even started taking my core pre-med courses,” he remembers. “And then,” he pauses, “I took Intro to Psychology.”
Ironically enough, it was just that one course—a necessary prerequisite for the MCAT, in fact—that spurred his career switch. “It was like an internal spark. I was able to connect instantly to psychology, more than any other of my science courses.” Why? “Psychology, though it’s a science, is more of an art: You are being trained to see the world from someone else's perspective, take the concepts you learn about in class, and construct theories to understand and help that person’s case.”
Now, he knows his calling is psychology; and it’s a decision that’s been fortified during this summer’s internship in forensic psychology at the Queens County and Kings County Criminal Courts, a competitive position secured with the help of LCM's psychology department chair and forensic psychology professor, Dr. Alan Perry.
Every day this summer, Gabay conducts supervised mental-health status evaluations of defendants who plead insanity or commit such reprehensible and outlandish crimes that the judge requires them to be tested. In many cases, he also conducts competency exams for defendants who—the judge suspects—may not fully comprehend the process of the legal system. Competency exams ensure that the defendant understands court protocol and will be able to cooperate with the lawyer and judge. Gabay interacts one-on-one with the defendants themselves—a valuable experience he isn’t taking for granted.
“It was a bit disorienting at first, sitting at the same table as alleged murderers or criminals,” Daniel admits. “They come to us straight from jail, and sometimes we go to them. But over time you learn to see the case from their point of view, and you keep asking yourself, ‘Were they doing the crime out of psychosis or out of criminal intention? Do they know what they were doing at the time they committed the crime?’”
Along with the psychologists, Daniel and the other interns evaluate each defendant. They’ll administer the TAT [Thematic Apperception Test], Rohrschach, and IQ tests, and “we’ll speak to them about what was going through their mind, get their family/medical history, ask them to do simple tasks like remembering three things to test their cognitive abilities. Sometimes we administer specialized tests to determine if the defendant is malingering …it’s a long process.” Throughout it all, Daniel takes notes, and at the end of the interview, asks questions.
After the defendant’s interview, two psychologists in the department communicate with the interns [aside from Daniel, there are graduate, medical, and doctoral student interns] to form a diagnosis. “With our diagnosis, we conclude whether these criminals belong in a psychiatric unit or a correctional facility and submit a recommendation to the judge,” he explains. Other times, Daniel will be responsible for determining whether a rehabilitation program, instead of a jail cell, would help the defendant. “When itcomes to misdemeanors, such as drug dealing, the court will ask our forensic psychology unit, ‘Do you think this person would do well in a program that will help them work with their drug addiction, selling, etc., instead of throwing them into jail?’ We had seven to eight cases like this so far.”
Ironically, this internship in forensic psychology has concretized Daniel’s plan to pursue a doctorate in educational psychology.
“One of the questions we ask all the defendants who get evaluated in our clinic is what their highest level of education is. Most have never finished high school. That’s when I realized that perhaps we should start from the root of the issue: education. If we can get to the core of the schooling system issue and understand how and why students don’t complete high school or further their education, we can help the world in a dramatic way.”
A child of immigrants, and the son of a school administrator (his father is the founding dean of Ohr HaChaim Hebrew Academy day school in North Hollywood, California), Daniel is no stranger to the world of education. “Growing up with parents who are active members of an educational institution, education and psychology were always in my DNA. I was always interested in how people learn, and how we can help them learn better. But now I’ve decided to pursue this on a grand scale.” His doctorate in educational psychology will help Daniel explore this on an even deeper level, “especially when it comes to educating minority and underserved populations,” says Daniel.
Daniel also has personal reasons why he wants to enter—and improve—the field of educational psychology. As a child, he remembers being “a huge troublemaker” whom “teachers and administrators never knew how to handle.” He was suspended several times, and if it wasn’t for his dream of becoming a doctor, he sometimes thought of dropping out of high school. Thanks to his parents, who believed in him and encouraged him, he went on to college. But he says that others aren’t so lucky. “Some of my former classmates, the difficult ones, are now on the streets. I always wish the administrators could have dealt with us in a better way. Who’s there now, for those unmotivated students, the troublemakers, who are falling by the wayside?
“That’s why I want to step in—to help the student I used to be.”
And LCM, he says, is helping him achieve this.
“Touro really helped me find my niche and choose my specialization by placing me in multiple clinical and research internships,” he says. “And Dr. Perry is such a great resource. This internship is somewhat like a stepping stool for me to understand his coursework, and climb the next rung of my ladder to my career. I’m really gaining a huge deal of knowledge.”