The history of Italian psychiatry is also the history of the relationship between psychiatry, law and penal jurisprudence, when dealing with criminal proceedings and detention of deviant, dangerous or delinquent individuals. The author traces the history of the relationship between these fields of study and highlights the key historical and theoretical periods in which the alleged ‘dangerousness of the mentally ill person’ appears a constant problematic element in the relationship between these disciplines. ‘Dangerousness’, until the end of World War II, constitutes a basic concept and plays a critical role in psychiatric practices. Thereafter, the new constitution of the Italian Republic (1948) introduces the concepts of dignity, freedom and democracy that inspire the renewal of Italian psychiatry and Law 180 (1978). In recent times, the concept of ‘dangerousness’ has reappeared. Law courts now consider psychiatrists responsible for controlling the dangerousness of mentally ill persons. In Italy that means controlling without the utilization of closed institutions and using exclusively treatment practices and techniques, sole competence of the medical profession. The author questions this recent development and wonders if such an evolution is congruent with the key principle of the Italian psychiatric renewal, i.e. any approach to human needs should implement the values of freedom and respect to be considered scientific and therapeutically effective.
Keywords: Dangerousness, history of psychiatry, law, legal position of warranty.