The Mentally Ill and Civil Commitment: Assessing Dangerousness in Law and Psychiatry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The purpose of this chapter is to provide a general overview to the problem of dangerousness, the mentally ill, and civil commitment. Dangerousness usually refers to persons who are in danger of hurting themselves or others. Dangerousness, though an ambiguous term in law and psychiatry, has both civil and a criminal components. Dangerousness is applied in criminal cases to those who have committed certain violent acts and appear willing to do so again. “Future dangerousness testimony is the major means of persuading the sentencing jury that a convicted defendant poses a threat to society and thus merits the death penalty” (Beecher-Monas, 2003: 412). Dangerousness in civil law, that is, for the purpose of commitment to a psychiatric hospital, is less easily defined, mostly because the purpose of hospitalization is treatment, not punishment. Dangerousness has no scientific meaning, that is, as a disease or disorder. Yet medical professionals will assert that someone is dangerous based on his or her behavior and not on any particular disease. Or, they may suggest that the person has a disease or disorder, but with the notation: not otherwise specified (NOS), meaning that the disease or disorder does not meet the standard criteria. Dangerousness, however, is not a medical condition.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication(Re)Thinking Violence in Health Care Settings
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Approach
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781317189190
ISBN (Print)9781409432661
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016


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