What Is a Forensic Assessment Unit?

Patients

Patients in forensic assessment units include mentally ill individuals who are suspected or accused of criminal offenses or who are at risk of criminal behaviors, and who require psychiatric assessment, treatment and rehabilitation under special security.

Forensic Assessment Professionals

Forensic assessment teams typically include psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, recreation therapists and psychologists who apply their mental health knowledge to questions posed by the legal system.

Forensic Assessment for Legal Purposes

One key outcome of forensic assessment includes determining whether an offender is mentally capable of being tried in court. Such units apply varying definitions of "mentally capable" in legal terms, ranging from an offender not knowing what he did was wrong, to having a mental disease or defect, to being "criminally insane." Because laws defining criminal responsibility vary by country and even state, forensic assessment outcomes are dependent on local laws and legal definitions.

Forensic Risk Assessment

In forensic risk assessment, assessment teams seek to determine causes of aggressive or violent behavior in patients and work to prevent recurrence. Patient history and personal factors, such as family background, past offenses and abuse, and current support are considered to determine the likelihood and prevention of the patient reoffending.

Forensic Assessment Issues

Because professionals in forensic assessment units are responsible for both the care of the patient and for providing an assessment to the legal system that remanded the patient into their care, there exists the possibility of conflict between what is best for the "patient" and building a case against the "offender." This conflict is inherent in the definition of forensic assessment, and is the subject of ethical debate in the forensic psychiatry community. Forensic assessment units are mental-health facilities that specialize in evaluating violent or aggressive criminal offenders, often as a result of or in the course of criminal trials and proceedings. Such facilities can be independent or affiliated with mental health institutions or hospitals.