by Robert G. Meyer, Ph.D., and Christopher M. Weaver, Ph.D.; New York, Guilford Press, 2005, 394 pages, $45
Dr. Bolton is a fellow in the Law and Psychiatry Program, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
The authors of Law and Mental Health are forensic psychologists obviously skilled in teaching. This enjoyable book is divided into sections that explain legal concepts that are relevant for clinicians and forensic professionals too. The authors write about the legal concepts in an easy-to-understand and friendly fashion. The stories behind the legal cases provide vivid backdrops for the complex legal concepts presented. This format provides the reader with background information, in-depth accounts of some important legal decisions, legal precedents, and the authors' reasoning as it pertains to clinical practice and the practice of forensic assessments.
This book is organized in sections that cover issues from basic courtroom procedures and legal precedents to forensic evaluations as well as civil rights, violence, and juvenile legal issues. Basic legal concepts are presented in the introduction. Under the section on legal precedents, informed consent, duty to warn, and confidentiality are covered in a way that is informative to everyday clinical practice and forensic professionals. The next section focuses on tasks related to forensic assessment, such as competency, the insanity defense, commitment, and hypnosis, and is thorough and helpful. The section on commitment is comprehensive; however, it did not cite the Lessard v. Schmidt decision, which is commonly thought to be the high-water mark in the due process rights of individuals in civil commitment proceedings. The inserts identified as "Where Are They Now?" are especially interesting. These sections go beyond the case summaries to give the rest of the story about what happened to the individuals involved in the cases after the rulings.
In the civil rights section under the prisoner's right to treatment, a footnote explaining side effects of fluphenazine, an antipsychotic medication, suggests that tardive dyskinesia is fatal in up to 30 percent of cases. The incidence of tardive dyskinesia is likely higher than estimated in the past and may be up to 15 to 30 percent, but lethal outcome in up to 30 percent of cases more likely pertains to neuroleptic malignant syndrome, also a side effect of this drug. On the whole this book explains law, legal concepts, and the reasoning behind the legal decisions in a comprehensive and clear voice. The section on violent crime and criminals is especially interesting, and the research cited is up to date and relevant. The issue of community notification and postincarceration commitment of sex offenders to psychiatric hospitals is timely, and a thoughtful discussion is included. A large section on juvenile legal issues concludes this book with a comprehensive and detailed discussion of juvenile law, juvenile capital punishment, child abuse, and custody.
In summary, I would recommend this book to clinicians interested in legal concepts and precedents, as well as to those interested in the study of law and mental health issues. Lawyers not familiar with mental health law might also find this book's presentation of case law, discussions of rulings, and background information interesting.