March 2, 2010

UK may end controversial "dangerous and severe personality disorder" program

In what could signal a seismic shift against civil commitment based on pretextual mental disorder, England is rumored to be considering an end to its controversial "Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder" (DSPD) program.

The program was launched in 1999 and has so far cost an estimated 200 million pounds (more than $300 million USD), with little evidence of efficacy in identifying dangerous criminals or curbing violent crime. The four DSPD units -- two at Broadmoor and Rampton high security hospitals and two at Whitemoor and Frankland prisons -- house about 300 offenders. Critics say the label Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder is a political invention, not a true psychiatric disorder.

According to an exclusive report by London's independent Channel 4 News, the Ministry of Justice is considering a halt to the program based in part on a report that concludes that the program "has been largely ineffective and should now be abandoned." The report, co-authored by former government advisor Peter Tyrer, is under review for the journal Medicine, Science and The Law, published by the British Academy of Forensic Sciences.

The report follows on the heels of another critical analysis that I recently blogged about, due to be published in the International Journal of Law & Psychiatry. That study, "Dangerous and severe personality disorder: An investigation of the construct," by authors Ullrich, Yang, and Coid, found a very high rate of false positives -- that is, people categorized as DSPD and at high risk of serious reoffending when they actually did not reoffend when tracked in the community.

Ullrich and colleagues found that 26 DSPD offenders would need to be civilly committed to prevent one major violent act. In regard to sex crimes, the researchers found that most were committed by offenders who were NOT categorized as DSPD, undermining the UK Home Office and Department of Health assumption that offenders at the highest risk for future sex offending would be categorized as DSPD.

If Britain does indeed eliminate the DSPD program, it will be a major blow for those who advocate for civil commitment as a viable means of increasing public safety. Not only is it exorbitantly expensive, but also the civil liberties implications of wrongfully detaining people who are not truly dangerous based on unreliable prediction tools are ominous.

It will also be a blow against the creation of dubious new diagnoses to justify civil commitment on the grounds of purported mental disorder, as is being done here in the United States.

Finally, this scientific setback may also help to discourage those who seek to extend civil commitment to other populations, such as juveniles.

1 comment:

Robert A Forde said...

Being one of the many British forensic psychologists who argued strenuously against the DSPD programme, and indeed the whole concept, I am not a bit surprised at this news. There have been several attempts to tackle the whole problem of intransigent individuals within the criminal justice system, and all seem to have been abandoned after the expenditure of a colossal amount of money.