Legal Protections For Mental Health Clients Losing Ground In California

I’ve seen what is going on in California happen in Virginia and, honestly, I’d say there is much good cause for grave concern. This kind of attention can only mean a much worsened situation legally is on the way for people impacted by the psychiatric system in that state. A task force has been set up over a law that protects the rights of people threatened by the mental health system that some people would like to see overturned. A story on the matter has appeared in the LA Times, Task force seeks to change California’s mental health commitment law.

The irony is that they are using the example of Thomas Kelly, a young man brutally beaten to death by the police, as a excuse to give the authorities more power to lock people up for psychiatric labels. I’ve noticed elsewhere where his case was being used to expand the reach of Laura’s Law, California’s involuntary outpatient commitment law. This is a sad situation indeed. Imagine using the example of a man beaten to death by the police as an excuse to strengthen that police power, and to take the rights of people facing commitment procedures away from them. Doing so is certainly not going to prevent police officers from beating more unarmed civilians to death.

California’s pioneering Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, passed in 1967, gave legal rights to those who previously could have been locked up indefinitely and treated against their will. But the task force — made up of family members, mental health professionals, judges and public defenders — contends that the law has failed those unable or unwilling to seek help.

A report has been issued, but this report has been criticized as notably lacking in the voice of the people actually under threat, the psychiatric treatment consumer and survivor clients of mental health services in the state of California.

The self-appointed group recently released its report after 30 months of study. And some of its recommendations are likely to receive broad consensus. Among them: consistent application of the law statewide, interagency coordination to ensure that patients are promptly placed in appropriate hospitals, availability of crisis stabilization services in every county, and standardized training for police and others who respond to those in need.

The argument we are getting is that these people are being treated in the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system. I certainly don’t think that such a development would be a good excuse to reverse the trend towards deinstitutionalization that we have been seeing across much of the world. I would argue instead for spending more money on community care, and for utilizing some kind of jail diversion plan when it comes to people with psychiatric labels impacted by the criminal justice system.

Apparently there are two schools of thought involved in this debate; unfortunately the impetus behind any action of this sort is likely to favor the second camp mentioned in the following paragraph.

One camp, which includes client organizations and advocates, asserts that only voluntary care can truly be effective. The other, dominated by medical professionals and family members, says illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often make sufferers incapable of the insight needed to engage in care voluntarily.

While much of the rhetoric coming from the camp comprised mostly of medical professionals and family members claims not to favor involuntary treatment, this kind of action could only involve the promotion of, and support for, stiffer laws and increased intolerance when it comes to the eccentricity, non-conformity, and different behaviors that could get a person imprisoned, restrained, labeled, drugged, electro-shocked and otherwise harmed by the psychiatric system against that person’s will and wishes.

10 Responses

  1. California is a police state and too many law enforcement officers get off on the “force” bit of their job description. They are drunk on their own power and enjoy terrorising civilians. Thomas Kelly ran when the police searched his bag. He was terrified. And rightly so. Nothing wrong with his “insight”.

    ..”standardized training for police and others who respond to those in need.”

    Yeah. Like that is going to happen any time soon. The way the police approach people is wrong across the board. You are right; changing the commitment law won’t stop the police from beating people to death, but I wish something would. At least they are getting charged, but that won’t bring Thomas Kelly back. And they are only getting charged because they were seen. Cops need to stop acting like playground bullies with guns. They cause a lot of the problems that arise at the point of questioning or arrest. They bully people until they put a foot wrong, then they attack.

    This has got nothing to do with schizophrenia and everything to do with police brutality. Only if you can stand hearing him:

    • Call me the odd man out, but I have always been treated with deference, courtesy and respect by the police. They enforce a specific body of law by agreed upon protocols. Sure, there are some bad apples in the lot, but for the most part, they’re decent folks.

      It’s the bullies in mental health for whom the laws are whatever they say they are that frighten me.

      • I agree 100% with “Sure, there are some bad apples in the lot, but for the most part, they’re decent folks.”

      • I used to feel that way most strongly, so I cannot fault you or anyone else for feeling that way too. I have worked closely with the police at times and have always championed the uniformed services.

        There is a difference to be found in the US system, however. Force rather than de-escalation is the norm and this often creates more problems. It also paves the way for abuse of the rules.

        When a police officer calls for back-up, the incoming response team arrives pumped up and ready for action. Pack mentality takes over and you get situations like Thomas Kelly’s. When people are upset and frightened, they may well try and run or defend themselves and the system does not allow for that; police officers regularly shoot unarmed civilians who are in a bit of a panic. The kind of incidents I describe happen more frequently than you think because the police are very good at covering up their crimes. After all, who is going to investigate them? Furthermore, they are very well protected by the law.

        The police are not legally required to protect you, yet they are legally entitled to kill you. The bad apples out there may be in the minority, but they are armed and dangerous.

    • I’ve seen policemen in California overlook some matters that might be considered serious offenses elsewhere, and so I’m not going to call the place a police state.

      When it comes to police killings, whether by beatings, shootings, or tazerings, of innocent civilians, and often civilians with psychiatric histories, this is a national problem. In fact, it is probably a problem that extends beyond our national borders. I have heard of incidents in Oregon, California, Virginia, New York, and Florida as well as other places.

      I think one problem we’ve got is the gun culture that is so pronounced in this country. I’m not against guns for recreational purposes (hunting, target practice), but some of these guns just aren’t for recreational purposes, and they’ve got even the police on the defensive.

      Police also need to be trained in de-escalating crisis situations. The ‘shoot first think later’ mentality is simply a bad approach, and it doesn’t stop until some of these “bad apples” get prosecuted on a larger scale. Right now most of the ones who commit these offenses get off scot free while some poor family has to contend with the loss of a loved one.

      There is a big problem with lack of oversight where police departments are concerned, and this is why, in some places, citizen review boards have been proposed to insure independent and thorough going investigations of such incidents.

  2. It looks like the state of California doesn’t want to let that pesky document called the U.S. Constitution to get in its way of making sure people get the “help” they need.

    There’s nothing quite like tyranical help –

    “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good
    of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live
    under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
    The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may
    at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good
    will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
    of their own conscience.” – C.S. Lewis


    • My, but that quote has gotten a lot of mileage since the late Judi Chamberlain claimed it as one of her favorites. The C.S. Lewis essay from which it was culled, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, is also online if anyone feels an inclination to read it.

      Let me tell you, it is well worth reading, too.

      The first paragraph alone is a winner…

      In England we have lately had a controversy about Capital Punishment. I do not know whether a murderer is more likely to repent and make a good end on the gallows a few weeks after his trial or in the prison infirmary thirty years later. I do not know whether the fear of death is an indispensible deterrent. I need not, for the purpose of this article, decide whether it is a morally permissible deterrent. Those are questions which I propose to leave untouched. My subject is not Capital Punishment in particular, but that theory of punishment in general which the controversy showed to be almost universal among my fellow-countrymen. It may be called the Humanitarian Theory. Those who hold it think that it is mild and merciful. In this I believe they are seriously mistaken. I believe that the “Humanity” that it claims is a dangerous illusion and disguises the possibility of cruelty and injustice without end. I urge a return to the traditional or Retributive theory not solely, or even primarily, in the interests of society but in the interests of the criminal.

      There are many ways in which this essay is apropo to our subject, and so I would encourage reading the entire essay if anybody should feel like doing so.

    • Great quote.

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