Dr. Andrew Nanton, assistant professor of Psychiatry at the UCF College of Medicine, recently presented his research on inmates who feign mental illness in an attempt to gain an advantage behind bars. Dr. Nanton presented “Exploring Characteristics of Malingerers using the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms” to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Forensic Section, in Prato, Italy.
Dr. Nanton’s research used standardized tests and structured interviews to determine the veracity of the inmates’ reported symptoms and to see if their geographical location or the severity of their crime was a variable in their malingering. His findings included:
- Two-thirds of the inmates who were referred to a jail psychologist because officials believed the inmates’ mental health symptoms were suspicious were indeed not being truthful about their symptoms.
- Inmates accused of less serious crimes were more likely to report psychological symptoms that are not consistent with genuine mental illness than inmates accused of more serious crimes.
- The courts have a very high standard for declaring someone not guilty by reason of insanity. Inmates who feigned symptoms of mental illness generally were not trying to build an insanity defense but instead were trying to get prescription drugs either for their own use or to sell inside the jail or to get more favorable housing assignments.
- Another motivation for feigning mental illness was to help make the inmate’s criminal activity less of a stigma. Generations ago, Dr. Nanton said, a person might prefer to go to prison rather than admit he or she suffered from mental illness. Today, he said, with society’s more understanding view of mental illness, some inmates believe psychological problems are less of a stigma than criminal activity.
“Drug-seeking on the basis of feigned mental illness is an issue globally. Many of the participants at the conference were dealing with that,” Dr. Nanton said. “But as forensic psychiatrists, we are also dealing with feigned mental illness in other legal contexts like disability, worker’s compensation and Social Security.”
Dr. Nanton said he first became interested in forensic psychiatry while in medical school at Tulane University. “I took a forensic psychiatry course and thought it was the most interesting thing I’d ever heard about,” he said. “Before that, I was thinking of going into radiology. Forensic psychiatry seemed like more fun.”
Before coming to the UCF College of Medicine this year, Dr. Nanton worked as a forensic psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis. There he performed violence risk assessments at Napa State Hospital, provided clinical psychiatric care to inmates at the Sacramento County Jail and conducted court-ordered and private assessments to determine if inmates were competent to stand trial and were criminally insane.