Volume 29, Issue 2 (April 1984)
The Impact of a Change in Commitment Procedures on the Character of Involuntary Psychiatric Patients
The statutory requirements for involuntary civil psychiatric confinement have become increasingly restrictive. In the jurisdiction under investigation, patients were originally admitted under an Order to Apprehend (OTA) procedure simply on the petition of two affiants who indicated the patient was in need of care. A newly elected judge instituted changes requiring affiants to claim the subject was “dangerous” to self or others and asking for a clinical assessment and recommendation before signing the petitioned request for involuntary confinement. It might be expected that the more restrictive procedures would have produced a population of more assaultive patients. A study of petitions signed under in the earlier (N = 133) and later, more restrictive (N = 218) procedures indicated that the proportion of assaultive or dangerous patients was virtually identical. Further investigation, using hospital data an OTA patients from this area in both time periods, suggested that while patients were not more assaultive, they appeared to be more seriously ill or psychiatrically impaired. Apparently, movement to a dangerousness standard that allows clinical discretion in interpreting its presence may result in involuntary commitments for more seriously ill, although not necessarily more assaultive, patients.