The new preventive detention: psychiatry's problematic responsibility for the control of violence

Am J Psychiatry. 1988 Jul;145(7):779-85. doi: 10.1176/ajp.145.7.779.


The legal doctrine of the duty to protect potential victims of patients' violent acts has created problems beyond those usually discussed, which involve breach of patients' confidentiality. Fear of liability has led some psychiatrists to hospitalize, solely for the purpose of preventing violence, patients who do not otherwise require inpatient care. The result has been the creation of a de facto system of preventive detention that consumes psychiatric resources intended to serve therapeutic ends and compels psychiatrists to share the social control responsibilities of the criminal justice system. The author explores the costs and benefits of various means of removing the burden of preventive detention from psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Dangerous Behavior
  • Forensic Psychiatry* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Resource Allocation
  • United States
  • Violence*