South African Journal of Psychiatry

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Psychiatric evaluation of intellectually disabled offenders referred to the Free State Psychiatric Complex, 1993 - 2003

F J Calitz, P H van Rensburg, P de Jager, M L Olander, R Venter, G A Wessels, G Joubert


Background. Increased crime is a problem in South Africa and complications arise when the accused is intellectually disabled.  The accountability and fitness to stand trial of such individuals is an important facet that needs to be managed by the judicial and health systems. Objective. To analyse the accountability and triability of intellectually disabled people awaiting trial referred to the Free State Psychiatric Complex (FSPC) from 1993 to 2003 according to Sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Procedures Act (Act 51 of 1977).

Method. A retrospective study was conducted. The study population consisted of 80 intellectually disabled people awaiting trial in the Free State, referred to the FSPC. The reason for referral was the possibility that they were not triable or accountable. A data form was compiled to transfer the relevant information from the patients\' clinical files.

Results. The study found that the majority of subjects were male (96.3%), unmarried (76.3%) and unemployed (63.8%). The median age was 27 years. A relatively high percentage (49%) had received some schooling and 16% had attended a special school. Most (32%) were referred from the Bloemfontein area and 68% were referred from the remainder of the Free State and other areas. The majority were referred according to Sections 77 and 78. The highest number of the offences were of a sexual nature (78%). Of the subjects, 62 (62.5%) were diagnosed as having mild mental retardation, while 16% were diagnosed as having moderate mental retardation. A total of 71 (71.25%) were found to be untriable and unaccountable.

Conclusion. Triability and accountability are not only reflected by IQ score, but also involve the accused\'s understanding of his/her environment, his/her speech and language proficiency, level of education, reasoning ability and the manner in which the crime was committed. It is important to note that having an IQ of 70 or less does not automatically mean that the accused is unfit to stand trial or is not accountable. It is possible for an intellectually disabled person to be triable, accountable or diminished accountable.

South African Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 13 (4) 2007: pp. 147-152

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