The Role of the Psychiatrist in the Penal System

  • Alex Yellowlees


Over the past 100 years psychiatry has played an increasingly influential and controversial role in penal affairs and most psychiatrists in general psychiatric practice are now involved in forensic problems as part of their daily work. In addition, a small number of specialist consultants in forensic psychiatry work in the NHS and special hospitals. The practice of psychiatry itself has altered substantially in the last 30 years and this has resulted in new problems in the management of the mentally abnormal offender, and in a wider sense in the role of the psychiatrist in the penal system. Meanwhile, the Law, cumbersome and anachronistic, lumbers on dragging the penal system behind it, and inevitably failing to keep up with an ever changing society. The evolving specialty of psychiatry and its recent development and sub-specialty Forensic Psychiatry, are constantly being caught between a changing society and an outdated penal system. Attempting to serve two masters at the same time, namely the Law on the one hand and the demands of their profession on the other, psychiatrists are at risk of doing neither adequately and losing credibility in the eyes of the public and the judicial system as a result. That such a situation should continue is untenable.


Criminal Justice System Criminal Behaviour Expert Witness Penal System Forensic Psychiatry 
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Copyright information

© Simon Backett, John McNeill and Alex Yellowlees 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex Yellowlees

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