Incompetent misdemeanants--pseudocivil commitment

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1986;14(1):23-30.


Prior to Jackson v. Indiana, psychiatric hospitalization of those found to be incompetent to stand trial often led to an inordinately long confinement, a particularly invidious consequence if the patient had been accused only of a misdemeanor. After a highly publicized murder perpetrated by a patient originally in this category, New York State instituted a rather cumbersome set of procedures designed to assure several layers of review, including involvement of the legal system, prior to increasing privileges or discharging someone committed pursuant to a criminal court order. The effect of this new law on patient care is examined by looking at the hospital course of 52 incompetent misdemeanants at one state facility. They are demographically and clinically quite similar to a control group of persons civilly committed, except for an increased length of inpatient stay. When compared with those sent to the county penitentiary after conviction, the study population differs on several important parameters. Looking like a patient, the incompetent misdemeanant is, however, treated more as a criminal with no indication that public safety is thereby increased or that individual therapeutic objectives are enhanced.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Criminal Law*
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Humans
  • Jurisprudence*
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • United States