Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk


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Call us on Youth Justice Backlist Titles eBooks. Rather than finding a fixed, immutable pattern as was previously expected, this review showed a pattern of changeability over time. However, with reference to anti-social personality disorder, very few controlled evaluations could be found on which to base firm conclusions. There are tentative suggestions that some behavioural, cognitive-behavioural, and therapeutic community programs may be successful in reducing anti-social behaviour amongst personality-disordered individuals.

Second, rather than identifying any preferred treatment approaches, he advocated instead the application of a set of principles based more broadly on the large-scale research findings on offender treatment in general, briefly cited above. In a number of countries steps have been taken towards the identification of populations of offenders with severe personality disorders, thought to constitute a high risk of committing the most serious types of crime including homicide, or grievous physical or sexual assaults. This includes for example Canada's Dangerous Offenders Act which allows indeterminate detention of certain offenders; the advent of Sexual Predator Commitment legislation, enacted in a number of US states; and proposals for detention of Dangerous People with Severe Personality Disorder in the United Kingdom Home Office, Most of these departures are based on the premise that, given the problems of treating such groups and the lack of any firm evidence concerning treatment effects, there is an identifiable clinical sub-group who for all practical purposes can be regarded as untreatable.

According to this argument, the only option for their management is that of incapacitation. Blackburn has reviewed evidence that calls into question the concept of untreatability of persons diagnosed as suffering from such disorders. Longer-term treatment studies to test the hypothesis that the risk levels posed by this clinical group can be reduced, have simply not been carried out.

As neither the technology of risk prediction nor the evidence from treatment research is yet sufficiently refined to allow precise guidance to be given, some agency practice focuses pre-dominantly on the simple avoidance of catastrophe. Following upon the ramifications of the Tarasoff case, and the conflict between client-practitioner confidentiality and the duty to warn, Monahan b provided useful advice on risk containment.


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The proposed framework revolves around five principles: use of the best-validated procedures for risk assessment; provision of staff training in risk management; preparation of relevant documentation and standardization of practices concerning its usage; development and implementation of policies with respect to these initiatives; and when calamities occur, recourse to effective strategies for damage control.

The patterns which have emerged in attempting to provide effective community care can vary immensely between services, agencies, and localities, both within and between regions of one country, and across national boundaries.

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In the United Kingdom, the Care Programme Approach was developed to address the difficulty of combining community care with public safety and risk management. This comprises a set of principles and procedures for assessment of clients, setting targets, monitoring progress, recording goal achievement or the reverse, and communicating information between professionals involved in an individual's care.

Its implementation is intended to avert many of the previously all too familiar problems of monitoring of risk and of obstacles to inter-agency communication of information. Properly enacted, it could enable agencies to work collaboratively to the maximum benefit of clients and the minimization of risk.

Thus, it is widely felt amongst practitioners -- and the findings of inquiries lend support to this expectation -- that the key to rehabilitation or community maintenance resides not in individually focused interventions, but in the assembly and delivery of well co-ordinated support services. Such a development underlines the potentially immense importance of multi-disciplinary teams.

Recently Tyrer, Coid, Simmonds, Joseph, and Marriott have reported on an extensive review of available literature on the impact of Community Mental Health Teams CMHTs on persons with comorbid severe mental illness and personality disorders. Though initially identifying a potential 1, studies for review, only five satisfied inclusion criteria. Within these studies, there was tentative evidence of some positive impact of the teams in reducing suicide rates and hospital re-admissions. By contrast, no conclusions were permissible regarding the effects of teams on clinical indicators such as mental state or social functioning of clients.

Other evidence underlines the importance of both of these elements being present in any comprehensive package of community based care services.

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For regrettably, innovations in services alone do not appear to be conducive to effectiveness in the absence of sound clinical intervention with individual clients. In these studies, services were designed such that significant changes were made in the their mode of delivery and in the degree of integration between them. Planned improvements in service functioning were systematically monitored; the evidence so obtained showed they had been effectively established and maintained.

There was therefore clear evidence of what should have been meaningful improvement in service systems. Perhaps disappointingly then, integration is an essential feature of good services; but it does not in itself appear to be enough to result in a genuine impact on clients' psychological welfare. All the contributing services or constituents of them must also be of high quality Morrissey, Whilst services clearly cannot meet clients' requirements where resources are inadequate, it appears that re-organisation of services alone will be insufficient unless it also contains well-tested clinical input.

Changes in systems of care such as those just discussed have been associated with a number of well-publicized difficulties. Given their complexity, it is impossible to disentangle any clear links between causes and effects. In the United Kingdom the transfer of large numbers of patients to community care raised concerns that vulnerable and potentially dangerous persons were inadequately supervised.


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When tragedies such as homicides occurred, they received possibly disproportionate media attention, and in following a particularly horrific murder public inquiries into such incidents were placed on a mandatory footing by the Department of Health. Recently commentators on this field have suggested that there is little more to be learned from such inquiries Peay, ; Reith, Whatever the details of the national or local framework, several pressures have remained constant.

One is to conduct more thorough assessments of individuals such that they may be directed towards the most appropriate channels of the mental health, criminal justice, or community care systems.

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Such work should have both a clinical and a forensic focus. Clinical assessment should include direct interviews, structured assessments using, for example, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory , the Millon Inventories , or Symptom Check List SCL and scrutiny of available reports from all professionals involved. Forensic assessment will focus on risk using instruments such as the Psychopathy Check List PCL-R , the HCR , or the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide but should also take account of anticipated destinations of clients and associated situational factors.

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Useful source texts providing background that will assist this process include the books by Melton, Petrila, Poythress, and Slobogin ; Quinsey, Harris, Rice, and Cormier ; and Rogers and Shuman A second demand is to develop improved methods of risk assessment and prediction. Broadly speaking, risk assessment strategies have traditionally been classified into two principal types: actuarial or empirically-driven involving measurement of a specified set of factors derived from an systematic research base ; and clinical founded on the subjective judgement of individual clinicians drawing on their own experience.

A lengthy history of research clearly demonstrates the superiority of the former over the latter for purely predictive purposes. Yet clinical judgement still has a valuable contribution to make Monahan, Thus it has been argued that a focus on the distinction between static and dynamic risk factors, and on the relation between statistical and clinical prediction, could enhance our ability to conduct systematically informed risk assessments Monahan, ; Serin, To the two long-standing approaches Melton, Petrila, Poythress, and Slobogin have suggested adding a third, which has been entitled anamnestic risk assessment.

This entails compilation of a checklist of risk factors on an actuarial basis, supplemented by clinical judgement. That information is then conjoined to the assembly of an inventory of situations in which individuals may be at risk of manifesting the target problem behaviour, together with a set of procedures for estimating the probabilities of such circumstances occurring.

The search for empirically supported treatments for offenders with mental disorder is evidently fraught with difficulty. In the absence of clear and definitive findings concerning the dimensions of effective interventions with offenders with mental disorder, a number of authors have resorted instead to the provision of a tentative framework or set of service guide-lines.

These currently represent the best advice that can be given to service providers until fuller, more detailed and better validated conclusions are available from systematic research. Frameworks such as these are inevitably a form of compromise. That may sound fairly negative; looked at more positively, they comprise a synthesis of three sets of ideas. The first is findings from available research evidence, to the extent that these show consistent trends. The second consists of lessons that can be distilled from practitioner experience including, for example, reports of public inquiries or service audits.

The third is a set of principles concerning ethically acceptable practice. The objective is to resolve issues of community safety and appropriate risk assessment and management with a concern for the civil rights of individuals subject to mental health legislation. They include an emphasis on the importance of communications between agencies; an explicit balance between individual rights, the need for treatment, and public safety; an awareness of the range of treatment needs of clients; the usage of a demonstration model in assessing risk of harm and treatability; clarification of legal requirements such as confidentiality and duty to protect; application of sound risk management procedures; and the practice of principles for promoting healthcare adherence.

These principles are valuable in providing a framework for service delivery within agencies, and as such they are also resonant of guidelines for risk containment proposed earlier by Monahan 1 b. It is unfortunate that the research base is not yet available to furnish more specific directions in which to develop or arrange provision of treatment and support. There are many studies on the prevalence of mental disorders amongst persons found guilty of crimes, and conversely of criminality amongst persons diagnosed as mentally disordered. There are also numerous follow-up studies of such groups following their discharge from institutions.

Similarly, much research has been reported on the outcomes of psychological therapies for mental health problems, and on reduction of offender recidivism. In sharp contrast, there are far fewer studies with a direct bearing on the question of effective treatment for mentally disordered offenders. It might therefore be concluded that we know very little about how to work with this client group.

On the other hand, this could appear to be a much larger problem than it actually is. It only seems insurmountable if the target group is regarded as somehow categorically different from other groups of offenders, or from other groups of persons with mental health problems.


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  7. Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk
    Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk
    Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk
    Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk
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    Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk Murderers and life imprisonment: containment, treatment, safety and risk

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