Study urges release of 'dangerous patients'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MANY mental patients classified as dangerous could be released from top security hospitals with no increased risk to the public, saving up to pounds 25m, a conference was told yesterday.

A study, conducted by Dr Malcolm MacCulloch, retired medical director of a secure hospital, and John Bailey, a psychologist, explored what happened following an experiment in 1980. Unknown to the general public, 33 patients classified by Broadmoor as 'maximally dangerous' were set free. Only one-third reoffended in the next eight years.

'It is generally accepted that only about 30 per cent of the patients held in secure hospitals are likely to reoffend,' Dr MacCulloch said. 'The problem has always been knowing which third. What is unique about this study is that for the first time we were able to see what happens when officially dangerous patients are released.'

The opportunity for the study came when 300 of some of the most difficult and recalcitrant patients from Broadmoor were relocated to Park Lane, a new hospital in Liverpool. Dr MacCulloch was the medical director and he ordered them all to be reassessed. As a result, more than 70 were eventually released. Dr MacCulloch told a conference on criminological and legal psychology in Harrogate that besides showing that secure hospitals are overly cautious about releasing patients, reoffending rates can be halved if patients are put under supervision.

'We believe we could get maybe 25 per cent of the 2,000 patients now classed as dangerous and kept inside at a cost of pounds 990 a week each, out of hospital.'

Park Lane Hospital is now known as Ashworth Hospital North, and was recently the subject of a highly critical inquiry.