Freedom Restrictive Coercive Measures in Forensic Psychiatry

Front Psychiatry. 2020 Mar 5;11:146. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00146. eCollection 2020.


Background: In Germany, people suffering from severe mental illness who have committed serious offenses and have considerably reduced or suspended criminal responsibility can be detained and treated in forensic psychiatric hospitals. In the German federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, all psychiatric hospitals including forensic psychiatric hospitals are obliged to record data on every coercive intervention and to submit them to a central registry. The objective of this study was to determine key measures for the use of seclusion and restraint and to compare them with data from the same registry on the use of coercion in general inpatient mental health care. Methods: Data on the main psychiatric diagnosis according to ICD-10, type and duration of each coercive measure and number of treated cases according to diagnoses, and cumulated number of days of treatment from all 8 forensic facilities in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg covering a catchment area with about 11 million inhabitants were collected at the treated-case-level for 3 years. Results: 22.6% of the cases treated in 2017 in forensic psychiatric hospitals were subjected to seclusion, and 3.8% were subjected to mechanical restraint. The mean cumulated duration of seclusion episodes per affected case was 343.9 h and the mean cumulated duration of restraint episodes was 261.7 h. 13.2% of the treated cases were subjected to room confinement with a mean cumulated duration of 539.1 h per affected case. Involuntary medication was applied in 1.9% of the cases. In general psychiatry, 2.9% of the treated cases were subjected to seclusion, and 4.7% were subjected to mechanical restraint. The mean cumulated duration per affected case amounted to 32.2 h for seclusion episodes and to 37.6 h for restraint episodes. Involuntary medication was applied in 0.6% of cases. Conclusion: Compared to general psychiatry, mechanical restraint is used in forensic psychiatry substantially less frequently and seclusion substantially more frequently. Room confinement is used only in forensic psychiatric hospitals. Use of involuntary medication is rare. On the one hand, recorded involuntary medication comprises only clear actions against the patient's expressed will as defined by law. Psychological pressure to take medication to avoid other forms of coercion and to achieve higher levels of freedom within the facility is not recorded. On the other hand, the low numbers of clear involuntary medication probably reflect the high legal threshold for such interventions, and, consequently, efforts by staff to motivate voluntary acceptance. The long duration of freedom-restricting coercive measures in forensic psychiatry probably reflects the selection of patients at high risk of violence.

Keywords: coercion; forensic psychiatry; involuntary medication; register data; restraint; seclusion.