Ethical issues in forensic psychiatry in penal and other correctional facilities

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;23(5):467-71. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32833bb2f2.


Purpose of review: Forensic mental health practitioners, especially psychiatrists working in jails, prisons or other correctional facilities, face special problems that are unlike others encountered in bioethics.

Recent findings: Literature published during the past year shows that the forensic psychiatrist has to adhere to role clarity: as a physician, he is primarily obligated to the treatment and well being of the incarcerated patients and is not exclusively an agent of social control. Moreover, the general conditions in a therapeutic setting (e.g. dealing with medical confidentiality) have to be clear and transparent to the patients. Different ethical models building a fitting framework for forensic practice are used.

Summary: Forensic psychiatric practice in penal and other correctional facilities poses particular ethical dilemmas. There is a great need for international humanitarian law, which serves both to protect vulnerable prisoners and to shield health professionals who treat prisoners with respect and dignity from abuse or penalty. It must be a common objective to find the right balance between protection from exploitation and access to research beneficial to prisoners.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Empirical Research
  • Forensic Psychiatry / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Physician's Role
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisons / ethics*
  • Prisons / organization & administration