SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More Californians with untreated mental illness and addiction issues could be incarcerated against their will and forced to seek treatment under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a move to help fix the state’s mental health system and solve its homelessness crisis.
The new law, which changes the state’s conservatorship system, expands the definition of “severely disabled” to include people who cannot provide for their own basic needs such as food and shelter because of untreated mental illness or adverse drug and alcohol use. Local governments say current state laws leave their hands tied when someone refuses to receive assistance.
The law is designed to make it easier for authorities to provide care to people with untreated mental illness or alcohol and drug addiction, many of whom are homeless.
The bill is aimed in part at tackling the state’s homelessness crisis. California is home to more than 171,000 homeless people – about 30% of the nation’s homeless population. The state has spent more than $20 billion over the past few years to help them, with mixed results.
Newsom has pushed his own plan to reform the state’s mental health system. Newsom’s proposal, which would change how counties pay for mental and behavioral health programs and borrow $6.3 billion to pay for 10,000 new mental health treatment beds, is expected to go to voters next March.
“California is undertaking a major overhaul of our mental health system,” Newsom said in a statement signed Tuesday. “We’re working to make sure no one falls through the cracks, and that people get the help they need and the respect they deserve.”
The legislation, authored by Democratic Sen. Susan Eggman, is the latest attempt to update California’s 56-year-old law governing mental health conservatorships – an arrangement in which a court appoints one person to make legal decisions for another. person, including receiving medical treatment and taking medication.
The bill was supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness California and mayors of California’s largest cities, who said the current conservatorship law makes it challenging to provide mental health treatment to those most in need.
Opponents of the bill, including disability rights advocates, worry that the new law will result in more people being locked up and depriving them of their basic rights. Forcing someone into treatment can also be counterproductive, they say.
According to Eggman, detaining a mentally ill person against their will should only be used as a last resort. The legislation aims to provide an alternative to sending people with mental illness and addiction problems to the prison system.
The law goes into effect in 2024, but counties can postpone implementation until 2026. The changes will serve as another tool to help the state reform its mental health system. Last year, Newsom signed a law that created a new court process where family members and others can ask a judge to create a treatment plan for certain people with specific diagnoses, including schizophrenia. That law would allow a judge to force people into treatment for up to a year. The court program, starting this month in seven counties, is also aimed at solving the state’s homelessness crisis.