Sunday, July 8, 2012

Laura's Law: the tip of the wedge

The SF Chron reports San Francisco is trying an initial "voluntary" version of the "Laura's Law" forced-treatment program. The law allows counties to set up court-ordered conservatorships over people who, as the Chron puts it, are "severely mentally ill and have been repeatedly arrested or hospitalized because they refuse treatment." People so defined may be detained in a mental ward for initial assessment, and then may be ordered to attend mandatory outpatient treatment under a court-appointed consevator's supervision. The Chron states the law doesn't allow involuntary medication but in fact that is possible by means of an additional court order.

The law, originally AB 1421 in 2002, can be found via the Cal. legislative counsel site starting at Welfare & Institutions Code 5345, not far from the well-known "5150" involuntary commitment statutes.

San Francisco has placed four people thus far in its pilot version of the program, which it calls the "Community Independence Pilot Project." . The way things go, likely those first few subjects will have been chosen carefully and reasonably. And it's good that the San Francisco program, for now, is only taking on people who voluntarily consent to conservatorship while already hospitalized for mental health reasons.

I've hesitated to write about this issue because I can think of people who would benefit, or would have benefited, from Laura's Law. Used sensibly and humanely by good social service professionals who engage in regular self-questioning, it might do a lot of good.

Unfortunately, laws that are intended for the control of the disorderly poor, which this one assuredly is, are seldom used sensibly or humanely. And in the systems that result from such laws, power corrupts.

If this conservatorship system gets imposed wholesale on members of the public who become viewed as disruptive, we will be looking at a medicalized system of exclusion from citizenship that can serve as a tool for keeping inconvenient people quiet. And, incidentally, at a new area of potential for abuse of power by professional fiduciaries.

Ominous, also, how the Chronicle story leans toward discussion of homeless people specifically as targets for the law, although, of the four participants in the pilot program, "None is homeless; it's unclear whether they were homeless when they entered the program."


  1. You can learn more about this law at

    1. DJ, your site looks interesting but I'm a troubled by its claim to present "unbiased information" at the top of what quickly proves to be an advocacy site in favor of imposing legally enforced outpatient treatment.