Perceptions of procedural justice and coercion among forensic psychiatric patients: a study protocol for a prospective, mixed-methods investigation

BMC Psychiatry. 2020 May 13;20(1):230. doi: 10.1186/s12888-020-02629-6.


Background: The risk and recovery paradigms are the dominant frameworks informing forensic mental health services and have been the focus of increasing research interest. Despite this, there are significant gaps in our understanding of the nature of mental health recovery in forensic settings (i.e., 'secure recovery'), and specifically, the key elements of recovery as perceived by forensic patients and their treatment providers. Importantly, we know little about how patients perceive the forensic mental health system, to what extent they see it as fair and legitimate, and how these perceptions impact upon treatment engagement, risk for adversity, and progress in recovery.

Methods: In this prospective, mixed-methods study, we investigate patient perceptions of procedural justice and coercion within the context of the forensic mental health system in Ontario, Canada (final N = 120 forensic patients and their primary care providers). We elicit patient self-assessments of risk and progress in recovery, and assess the degree of concordance with clinician-rated estimates of these constructs. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are used to assess the degree to which patient perceptions of coercion, fairness and legitimacy impact upon their level of treatment engagement, risk for adversity and progress in recovery. A prospective, two-year follow-up will investigate the impact of patient and clinician perspectives on outcomes in the domains of forensic hospital readmission, criminal reoffending, and rate of progress through the forensic system.

Discussion: Results from this mixed-methods study will yield a rich and detailed account of patient perceptions of the forensic mental health system, and specifically whether perceptions of procedural fairness, justice and legitimacy, as well as perceived coercion, systematically influence patients' risk for adversity, their ability to progress in their recovery, and ultimately, advance through the forensic system towards successful community living. Findings will provide conceptual clarity to the key elements of secure recovery, and illuminate areas of similarity and divergence with respect to how patients and clinicians assess risk and recovery needs. In doing so, knowledge from this study will provide a deep understanding of factors that promote patient safety and recovery, and provide a foundation for optimizing the forensic mental health system to improve patient outcomes.

Keywords: Coercion; Forensic mental health; Procedural justice; Protective factors; Recidivism; Recovery; Risk assessment; Violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Coercion*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Ontario
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Justice*