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The psychiatric report as moral tool : a case study in a French district court

Abstract : "Mental health evaluation within a legal setting is widely seen as a power to judge. The aim of this paper is to challenge this current thesis, which was popularised by Michel Foucault, who encapsulated the notion in a brief sentence: "The sordid business of punishing is thus converted into the fine profession of curing" (Foucault, 2003: 23). On the basis of an ethnography of a French district court (between September 2008 and May 2009, n=60 trials) including interviews with judges (n=10) and psychiatrists (n=10), we study the everyday penal treatment of sexual offenders using psychiatric reports. Our findings show how (i.) the expectations of the judges select the psychiatrists' skills (based on the following criteria for their reports: accessibility of knowledge, singularization and individualization of content) and (ii.) reframe the psychiatric report as a moral tool. The clinical reasoning of forensic psychiatrists in their reports offer moral affordances due to their clinical caution regarding the risk of recidivism (therapeutic and criminological reversal, moral prevention). Both the judges' evaluation and the psychiatrists' clinical authority are shaped by a moral economy of dangerousness, which eclipses the idea of lack of criminal responsibility. In conclusion, we show that these unintended effects are necessarily of interest to most clinical practitioners engaged in work as expert witnesses."
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01011109
Contributor : Samuel Lézé <>
Submitted on : Monday, June 23, 2014 - 9:44:15 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 3:09:10 AM

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Fabrice Fernandez, Samuel Lézé. The psychiatric report as moral tool : a case study in a French district court. Social science & medicine, Elsevier, 2014, pp.41-48. ⟨10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.06.026⟩. ⟨halshs-01011109⟩

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