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History of Law & Psychiatry

The leadership in the division has been involved in major legislation and policy development. Much of this work comes through the professional organizations in medicine, psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.

In the 1960s, the interface between psychiatry and law burgeoned as courts began to address the civil rights of psychiatric patients. Yale Department of Psychiatry faculty worked with the State Department of Mental Health along with patient advocates to draft Connecticut’s new civil commitment statute in the early 1970’s. The law was rewritten to change the standard from mentally ill and a “fit subject for confinement” to a “dangerous” or “gravely disabled” criteria. Yale psychiatry faculty also collaborated with the Yale Law School Jerome Frank Legal Services Office, who began representing hospitalized psychiatric patients seeking discharge from state mental hospitals. These collaborations and the agreement to perform the Competency to Stand Trial evaluations for the New Haven regional courts launched the Law and Psychiatry Division.

Now an internationally renowned program for educating forensic psychiatrists, the Division helps shape national and state policy and legislation related to the treatment of patients with mental illness in the community, hospitals, and prisons. The Division conducts forensic evaluations in criminal and civil cases and educates the legal and psychiatric community. The evolution of the Division has been inextricably linked to scientific, social, and legal developments in mental health services and the perception of mental illness. The Division has established programs, policy, and research in substance abuse and domestic violence, risk assessment, sex offender assessment, jail diversion, and other areas at the interface of psychiatry and law.

From the inception of the Law and Psychiatry Fellowship program in 1979 faculty have been in leadership positions in the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) and the American Medical Association (AMA). Faculty have been appointed to the APA Council on Psychiatry and the Law which develops APA Policies, the Judicial Action Committee which prepares amicus briefs for cases involving psychiatry, and on the APA Ethics committee. In AAPL several of our faculty are past presidents and officers as well as serving as Medical Director. In the AMA Yale members have been an integral part of AAPL’s delegation to the Psychiatric Caucus (comprising the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Addictions and Geriatrics and Military Psychiatry) that has shaped policies in the insanity defense, expert witnesses, interrogation of detainees by psychiatrists and reviews of expert testimony.