A California law mandating treatment for mental illness is facing a legal challenge

A California disability rights group is asking the state Supreme Court to block implementation of the CARE Act, a sweeping law signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall. The law, whose goal is to solve the crisis of homelessness in the country, creates “CARE Courts”, which enable the state to force severely mentally ill persons to receive treatment and housing according to court orders. However, disability rights groups have consistently opposed the measure, arguing that it risks abuse to entrap mentally ill people under state control.

“The CARE Act was an attempt to respond to two crises — the lack of affordable, affordable housing and mental health care — that force many into last-resort living situations,” the petition claims. “Isolating people with schizophrenia and forcing them into forced outpatient treatment, multiple court hearings, forced assessments and other legal punishments is not an appropriate response.”

The CARE Act was signed into law last September, and Governor Newsom claimed the new law would “[offer] hope and a new way forward for thousands of struggling Californians and empowering their loved ones to help.” Under the law, individuals such as first responders, family members and clinicians can petition for a severely mentally ill person to participate in the “CARE program. “

If an individual meets certain conditions, such as a severe psychotic illness that is currently untreated, a case can be filed in two ways. First, if the person voluntarily accepts treatment, the case is dismissed. If the individual refuses, a lawyer is appointed and a series of hearings are held. Ultimately, a judge can order an individual into a “plan of care,” ordering mental health treatment. This plan is automatically set for one year, with a possible voluntary one-year extension.

Supporters say the CARE Act will allow the state to tackle the homelessness crisis by helping severely mentally ill homeless people get off the streets and into treatment. However, disability rights groups and civil liberties organizations argue that CARE plans are fraught with potential for abuse.

“Unfortunately, instead of focusing on proven methods that prioritize permanent housing and voluntary health care, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s so-called ‘CARE Court’ plan would create a new court system that subjects homeless people with mental disabilities to involuntary treatment. This is not the answer,” she wrote. is the California American Civil Liberties Union last June.

Now, a disability rights organization in California has taken legal action asking the California Supreme Court to block implementation of the law. The petition, which was filed late last month, claims the CARE Act violates due process rights by forcing individuals into restrictive court-ordered treatment plans using “vague” and “undefined” language that the petition claims could lead to “arbitrary and discriminatory decision-making.”

Furthermore, the petition claims that the CARE Act violates equal protection rights by singling out people with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia for legal proceedings. “No other mental health law in California differentiates between individuals based on diagnosis rather than severity of need,” the petition states.

Overall, the petition claims that the CARE Act will lead to gross violations of many basic rights guaranteed by the California Constitution. “Thousands of unhoused Californians with mental illness will be threatened with court orders, forced into treatment and swept off the streets, not because they pose a danger to themselves or others, but because a judge has speculated that they ‘likely’ will become so in the future,” it said. in the petition. “While designed to address the nation’s homelessness crisis, it will not advance that goal. And on its face, the CARE Act violates essential constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, while unnecessarily burdening fundamental rights to privacy, autonomy, and liberty.”

While it is unclear whether the California Supreme Court will accept this challenge to the CARE Act, this latest action presents a clear argument against the use of the state’s power to compel individuals to receive treatment.

“The CARE Act establishes a mandatory new court system that allows the deprivation of liberty and autonomy in violation of the basic constitutional rights of Californians,” said Mike Rawson, director of litigation at the Public Interest Law Project, in a January press release. “Such coercive systems and treatments have been shown to be ineffective and will only serve to perpetuate institutional racism and exacerbate health disparities.”

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