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California: Looking at Laura's Law

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In 2002, California passed Laura's Law, under pressure from families of mentally ill adults. Laura's Law implements court ordered treatment for individuals with severe mental illnesses, who meet strict legal criteria, such as being non- compliant with medications. It allows for outpatient commitment in the hopes of reducing homelessness, risk of incarceration, crime against mentally ill individuals and violence.

Only one of California's 58 counties has implemented the law. Due to a caveat attached to the passage of the law, each county was required to implement their own programs. Now, due mostly to some high profile cases, such as the Kelly Thomas case, other larger counties are preparing plans for implementation.

According to an article in the LA Times, advocates and critics are each voicing concerns regarding avoiding more tragedies versus taking away fundamental rights of an individual. While the article sites some cases that have received a lot of press, there are thousands of stories that go untold. Some of these stories tell us about individuals, those not forced into court appointed treatment and instead, wind up in jails and prisons, untreated.

This issue is far more encompassing than it seems and calls us to look at how we are providing mental health care, everywhere. It is worth noting that on any given day, here in the Chicagoland area, there are sometimes no beds in the very few mental health hospitals left. We are fundamentally failing to provide access to treatment and leaving the families of individuals left to wonder, 'Where do we go for help?'

Should we look to laws to provide the gateway and funding to providing treatment? Are there other options? These are all questions that remain and need answers.