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New California Courts Can Force People Into Mental Health Care

A new civil ‘CARE Court’ system will launch in eight California counties this fall, where family members and first responders can ask judges to order people with psychotic illness into treatment, even if they are not unhoused or haven't committed a crime. The first eight counties will include San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orange, followed by the rest of the state in 2024, NPR reports. A judge will determine if a person meets criteria for the program and may oversee a care agreement or compel a treatment plan. That treatment plan could include involuntary commitment. The bill creating the program had near-unanimous support in the state legislature last year amid growing frustration from voters over the state's increasing number of homeless people. However, it drew opposition from disability rights groups, who argued CARE Courts' hallmark — compelling people who have done nothing wrong into mental health care — is a violation of civil rights.

In Orange County, officials running the new courts must convince people to accept care without coercion, particularly when their illness causes them to believe they are not ill. Orange County is expecting that between 900 and 1,500 residents will be eligible for CARE Court in any given year. Local lawyers, judges, and health officials have all aligned in designing their program with a distinct patient focus. After advocates failed to persuade the state Supreme Court to block the program on constitutional grounds, some started referring to gearing up for the rollout of CARE Court as "disaster preparedness," equating it with a devastating earthquake or wildfire. Under the CARE legislation, county courts are allowed to fine public behavioral health agencies $1,000 a day if they can't find a patient and enroll them in treatment by certain deadlines.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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