September 20, 2007

Federal judges question novel diagnoses used to civilly commit sex offenders

Federal judges in Wisconsin are raising their eyebrows over psychiatric diagnoses that some contend were invented or are being overused for the sole purpose of civilly incarcerating sex offenders after their criminal sentences have expired.

The diagnoses at issue are "Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified-Nonconsent" and "Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with Antisocial Features." Neither diagnosis is included in the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), nor are they typically invoked in mainstream psychology or psychiatry.

In the more alarming of the two court cases, the court in Brown v. Watters stated that the state's psychologist had invented the diagnosis he was using in the case, "Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified-Nonconsent." Dennis Doren, who is well known in the sex offender industry, "acknowledged that the psychiatric community did not recognize the former disorder and that he had created it himself because he perceived a gap in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual," according to the court's ruling.

A paraphilia is defined in the DSM as a chronic pattern of intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors generally involving nonhuman objects, suffering or humiliation, or children or other nonconsenting persons. Doren has expanded that definition to include habitual rapists.

The other case ruled on by the federal appellate court was McGee v. Bartow, involving a diagnosis of "Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with Antisocial Features." Michael McGee claims that this is a "bogus disorder" invented by state psychologists to justify his continued confinement after he completed his sentence.

Neither ruling decided the merits of these challenges to the state’s Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) laws. They decided only that the issues raised enough concern that the appellants were entitled to another day in court.

The two cases, both in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, are Bruce Brown v. Steve Watters, Case No. 06C0753, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53344, and Michael McGee v. Byran Bartow, Case No. 06-C-1151, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24700.

POSTSCRIPT: For subsequent rulings in these cases, see my blog post of May 2, 2008.

Thanks to Tom Zander, JD., Psy.D., of Wisconsin for alerting me to these cases.

Also see Dr. Zander’s article, Civil Commitment Without Psychosis: The Law's Reliance on the Weakest Links in Psychodiagnosis, available online at the Journal of Sexual Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law.