Difficulties of cultural diversity. An exploratory study into forensic psychiatric reporting on serious juvenile offenders in the Netherlands

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This paper discusses psychiatrists' assessments of the personalities of ethnic minority and ethnically Dutch juvenile offenders. Psychiatric reports and recommendations help courts determine the type and duration of sanctions. Psychiatrists are involved in almost all cases of serious juvenile crime, because under Dutch law, determining criminal responsibility is a matter for psychiatrists. The courts usually follow the recommendations of forensic psychiatrists when giving judgment and sentencing juvenile offenders.Far too little research has been conducted up to now on the difficulties encountered by forensic psychiatrists when making assessments. The present study discusses the nature and extent of these difficulties. It is based on an analysis of personality reports and sentence recommendations produced by psychiatrists attached to the juvenile courts in relation to youths subsequently sentenced to Placement in a Youth Custodial Institution (PIJ sanction) in the year 2000 (N = 164). A PIJ sanction is the most rigorous response available under the Dutch criminal law for juvenile offenders.The study shows, on the basis of the psychiatric reports, that arriving at a diagnosis is often more difficult when dealing with ethnic minority boys than in the case of their ethnically Dutch peers, since ethnic minority boys more frequently present themselves in a threatening and manipulative way, and tend to conceal their real selves. The reports indicate that the psychiatric assessment of personality is often difficult because forensic psychiatrists struggle with an inadequate knowledge and understanding of minority cultures, which seems to suggest that there is a need for a broader cross-cultural approach that would make it possible to conduct comprehensive personality assessments of serious juvenile offenders.

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