The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to use justice-ordered treatment to help those suffering from serious mental illness, opening the door to forced care for those who refuse help.
This Tuesday, the board plans to address the controversial issue of outpatient assisted treatment, better known as Laura’s Law, and has until the end of June to make a final decision. If implemented, judicial judges would have the power to force residents to receive mental health treatment if they do not adhere to voluntary programs and have landed in prison or hospital several times as a result of the illness.
Advocates say Laura’s law would help a lot those who suffer from mental illness who have not received treatment (many end up homeless on the street) and are too mentally ill to recognize even their own condition. County supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee have already recommended implementing Laura’s law at a committee meeting in March, and Simitian called her one more tool to help those in need.
“They are people who continue to suffer from untreated diseases,” Simitian said in a May 17 statement. “They are people who have been told over and over again by families that there is nothing we can do to help them if their loved ones do not agree to care. They have a right to mental health care and now we have the opportunity to finally get them help. “
Laura’s law has been in effect since 2002, but most counties, including Santa Clara, have rejected the program’s implementation. Along with concern that mandatory treatment violates civil liberties, county health officials insist that time and money would be better spent on strengthening voluntary programs and question the value of judicial care through patient treatment. sick. The Silicon Valley Law Foundation has also been skeptical and claims that Laura’s law reinforces the misconception that people with mental health disabilities are violent and cannot make decisions about their treatment.
Although the law is almost two decades old, Laura’s Law is once again in the spotlight. A new state law, the 1976 Assembly Bill, requires all counties to opt for Laura’s law by default, and those who decide to do so must do so by the end of June with a clear reason. for denial. According to Santa Clara County officials, San Bernardino County will be removed, at least in part, out of concern that mandatory treatment will disproportionately affect communities of color.
A letter in support of Laura’s law, signed by 40 people, including leaders of environmental, business and mental health groups, urged county supervisors to participate. The letter notes that assisted outpatient treatment focuses closely on some of the most difficult cases. People eligible for court-ordered treatment must be adults with a severe mental disorder and be “unlikely to survive” in the unsupervised community. The illness must also have resulted in imprisonment or hospitalization twice in the past 36 months, or may have resulted in violent behavior or attempts to cause harm to oneself or others.
Santa Clara County estimates, while broad, suggest that between 39 and 236 residents would meet the criteria of Laura’s law each year, of which between 20 and 50 may be subject to a court order.
“AOT (assisted outpatient treatment) would serve to benefit the most vulnerable members of our society: severely mentally ill individuals who refuse to receive the care they need,” the letter states. “It is not compassionate, equitable or fiscally responsible to allow the revolving door between emergencies, prisons and streets to continue.”
Some counties in the Bay Area, including San Francisco and San Mateo, have implemented Laura’s law in recent years and found success, with a massive reduction in incarceration and admission to psychiatric hospitals among participants. Proponents of the program say housing stability is a significant factor in the success of outpatient assisted treatment and should come along with treatment.
While county behavioral health personnel are trying to reject assisted outpatient treatment, Simitian said it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify her exclusion when so many counties can enforce Laura’s law with positive results. He said he faced concerns about civil liberties and due process in the past, but that he has since changed his mind.
“I am now convinced that the law is drafted closely enough and has enough protections built in, that these concerns have been alleviated,” Simitian said.
Early estimates show that Laura’s law would cost about $ 4 million, that the state would not pay, and that it came from the county coffers. Simitian said the costs are guaranteed.