Changing Forensic Mental Health in France: A Review

Yoji Nakatani, Suguru Hasuzawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article describes the background and recent changes in French forensic mental health. The literature suggests that three law reforms have been crucial to changes in the mental health system. First, the Penal Code of 1992 redefined the provisions of criminal responsibility and introduced the category of diminished responsibility. Second, a controversial law for preventive detention (rétention de sûretê) was enacted in 2008, according to which criminals with severe personality disorders are subject to incarceration even after the completion of their prison sentences if they are still considered to pose a danger to the public. Third, the revision of mental health laws in 2011 altered the forms of involuntary psychiatric treatments, stipulating a judge's authority to decide treatment. In parallel with these legal reforms, the psychiatric treatment system for offenders with mental disorders has been reconstructed. The number of difficult patient units (unités pour malades difficiles) has increased from four to ten across the nation in order to meet the needs of patients transferred from general psychiatric institutions for the reason of being unmanageable. In the penitentiary system, new facilities have been established to cope with the growing number of inmates with mental disorders. As background to these changes, it is pointed out that the current psychiatric system has undergone deinstitutionalization and become less tolerant of aggressive behavior in patients. In the broader context, public sensitivity towards severe crime, as shown by the sensation triggered by serious crimes conducted by pedophiles, seems to urge tough policies. In the 2000 s, several homicides committed by psychiatric patients had a great impact on the public, which led President Sarkozy to issue a statement calling for stronger security in psychiatric institutions. The harsh attitude of courts towards psychiatric practices is illustrated by a 2012 ruling; after a patient escaped from the hospital and hacked an elderly man to death, his psychiatrist was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence for failing to recognize the danger that the patient posed to the public. Another lawsuit was raised against a psychiatrist following this case. Apparently, a sense of crisis is growing among psychiatric professionals. Their concerns are based on several points. Introduction of diminished responsibility may narrow the possibility of acquittal by reason of insanity, and lead to the criminalization of those with mental disorders. Dangerousness (dangerosité), pivotal in the procedure of preventive detention, is not a medical concept, but is instead based on the erroneous identification of criminality and mental disorders. Therefore, it is unreasonable to entrust the evaluation of dangerousness to psychiatric expertise. Court intervention in the process of deciding appropriate treatment may intensify judicialization (judiciarisation) of psychiatry. Establishment of facilities for prisoners within the mental health system would create a new segregating function of psychiatry. Thus, French experience seems to be figuring out all the challenges that contemporary metal health is facing. Above all, effective measures should be taken to prevent patients from entering the criminal justice system. Following this recommendation would be helpful in Japan, where a new forensic mental health system has just started.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-518
Number of pages14
JournalSeishin shinkeigaku zasshi = Psychiatria et neurologia Japonica
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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