Disability Rights CA Tries to Block CARE Courts, Coerced Treatment for the Mentally Ill

A disability rights advocacy group has filed a petition with the California Supreme Court, attempting to block implementation of the state’s new CARE Court program. Disability Rights California argues the mental health courts are unfairly coercive and could disproportionately impact people of color. The group has even compared its opposition to the #FreeBritney movement.  

The CARE Act was passed by the Legislature in response to the mental health and substance abuse crises plaguing California’s streets. Under the law, a person experiencing untreated mental illness or addiction can be connected with services and provided a court-ordered treatment plan for up to 24 months. A community-based team will oversee the plan, which may include medication and housing. Those who fail to complete the program could be hospitalized or referred for a conservatorship. 

In an interview with Voice of OC, Sarah Gregory, a senior attorney with Disability Rights California, called it a violation of an individual’s “fundamental rights” and “a radical break from what California has historically done.”

But there is wide and bipartisan recognition that what California has historically done isn’t working. A Stanford Institute study found 52% of homeless individuals suffer from mental illness or drug addiction. Some research puts the percentage even higher. 

“I understand and empathize with the concerns raised thus far,” said CARE Act author Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana). “But what I do know, deep down, is that there is no humanity or due process in the current state of affairs with homelessness and mental health. CARE Court represents a big idea and a holistic approach to this complicated crisis.”

Disability Rights California has a history of opposing any form of coercive treatment, even for those with severe mental illness and a history of violence. The group also opposed counties’ implementation of Laura’s Law, which mandates outpatient treatment for mentally ill individuals who meet a number of criteria.