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'With Faces Hidden While the Walls Were Tightening': Applying International Human Rights Standards to Forensic Psychology


Michael L. Perlin


New York Law School


U.S.-China Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2010
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/11 #15

Abstract:     
Although there are now robust bodies of literature in both Alaw and psychology and in international human rights law, there has been remarkably little written about the specific relationship between forensic psychology and international human rights standards (and about the relationship between mental disability law and such standards in general). Attention is paid when it appears that state psychiatry or psychology is used as a tool of political oppressions e.g., in the former Soviet Union or in China, but the literature is strangely silent on questions dealing with the extent to which forensic psychology practice comports with international human rights norms. Studies done by groups such as Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) and Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) reveal serious and systemic problems in this area, and evidence suggests that, in many nations, little has been done to correct violations of such norms. In this paper, I seek to offer some preliminary insights into this issue by looking at (1) the range of cases in which forensic psychologists typically evaluate persons in the criminal justice system and then testify about their findings, (2) the range of standards of practice imposed in such matters, (3) the traditional role of forensic psychiatrists in institutional litigation in the United States, (4) the extent to which the work of forensic psychologists is examined critically by courts and/or licensing boards, (5) the special issues posed when this question is examined in the context of nations with developing economies, (6) the relevant international mental health norms, and (7) the extent to which such work meets international human rights norms. I will conclude by offering some suggestions about how such norms can more effectively be met (focusing specifically on how information about such norms can effectively be disseminated in nations with developing economies), by recommending that licensing and review boards specifically build such norms into their evaluation processes, and by considering different strategies to best insure that there is adherence to such norms in forensic practice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 14

Keywords: international human rights, forensic psychology, therapeutic jurisprudence, mental disability law, institutional litigation

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Date posted: January 19, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., 'With Faces Hidden While the Walls Were Tightening': Applying International Human Rights Standards to Forensic Psychology. U.S.-China Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2010; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/11 #15. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1743649

Contact Information

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)
New York Law School ( email )
185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2183 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.nyls.edu/bios/perlin.html
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