Forensic psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry dealing with the assessment and treatment of offenders in prisons, secure hospitals and the community with mental health problems. It requires a sophisticated understanding of the links between mental health and the law.
Forensic psychiatrists must balance the needs of each person assessed and/or treated with the risks of harm to others, including the person’s own family and associates, criminal justice or health service staff or the wider public. They most commonly provide treatment in a secure hospital environment, but may deliver services to prisons or deliver specialist community services. Generally, their patients are subject to legal restrictions.
A forensic psychiatrist provides services – such as determination of competency to stand trial – to a court of law to facilitate the adjudicative process and provide treatment, such as medications and psychotherapy, to criminals.
Forensic psychiatrists also provide specialist advice to the courts, the probation service, the prison service and other psychiatric colleagues. They also prepare reports for mental health review tribunals, hospital managers’ hearings, other practitioners and criminal justice agencies. It has also seen development of forensic low security hospital beds for patients working towards discharge and recovery.