Courtesy of Karen Neoh via Flicker under CC BY 2.0

The California Senate is considering a bill that aims to significantly change the parameters of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. This legislation was critical in preventing the involuntary and indefinite commitment of individuals by the state. The LPS Act did not aim to end involuntary commitment or endanger public safety but rather to prevent the inappropriate detainment of patients that would further harm them. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 43 will not significantly help solve California’s mental health and housing crisis but will cause extreme deficits.

S.B. 43 prevents a number of controversial and unsound changes to current legislation. The most significant issues are rooted in the changes the bill authors desire to make in defining the phrase “gravely disabled.” It will be expanded to cover a number of new mental health disorders and legal scenarios, precisely the consideration of a patient’s future safety. This is concerning as predicting the dangerousness of patients is highly unreliable, even in the eyes of professional psychologists. To involuntarily commit someone, the possibility of harm to oneself or others is too ambiguous a term. It will almost certainly lead to the commitment of individuals who would not be better served by this form of treatment.

In regard to SUDs, while civil commitment is still helpful in terms of treatment for individuals who suffer from the illness, it is not a sign of being “gravely disabled.” Furthermore, the mass involuntary commitment of those diagnosed with SUD may not lead to lasting sobriety or mental health. The County Behavioral Health Directors Association have, in a letter from their executive director, asserted that involuntary commitment would actually cause interference as SUD treatment is most effective when patients are there of their own volition.

Frankly, the most terrifying shift S.B. 43 proposes is the inclusion of whether or not a person understands and acknowledges their disorder. The LPS Act was initially enacted to address this problem, as denial of a disorder or illness was seen as a symptom or indicator. What’s worse is that claiming a diagnosis is incorrect is a rational action on the part of someone who wants to avoid the negative consequences of said diagnosis, such as stigmatization, being medicated or healthcare costs and difficulties.

Even worse, expanding the powers of the legal system to manage the lives of those with disorders is concerning. The control judges have over expert witness testimony provides a very clear view of their ability to comprehend psychological research and concepts. Unfortunately, research shows that the typical judge does not have a comprehensive understanding of the quality of research or psychological concepts.

The rhetoric being used to further this bill is profoundly polarizing and inaccurately characterizes a population that is no more likely to be violent than the average individual. There is no evidence to suggest that the majority of people with mental illnesses exhibit any violent behavior at all.

It will deny many people the protections that were hard won for those with mental illnesses and serve to further create hateful perceptions of disabilities. The fear that it will lead to the commitment of individuals with disorders that are difficult to treat is terrifyingly founded. Besides violating constitutional rights, it will not be effective at that cost. S.B. 43, very plainly, is not worth legislating, and Senator Eggman should never have put this bill forward in the first place.