Eclectic Rant: Response to Jack Bragen

By Ralph Stone
Thursday September 29, 2011 - 12:42:00 PM

This is somewhat of a response to Jack Bragen's article, "Response to Laura's Law In A Nutshell." Mr. Bragen is responding to my September 22 article, "Laura's Law in a Nutshell."

I am not sure Mr. Bragen fully understands Laura's Law.

First of all, I believe a large percentage of California's chronic homeless are mentally ill and would be well served by implementation of Laura's Law. Laura's Law could be viewed as an alternative to institutionalization, jail, or a continued life on the streets. Is it the final answer? No. But New York's experience with Kendra's Law, model for Laura's Law, resulted in 74 percent fewer homeless; 83 percent fewer arrests; 49 percent less alcohol abuse; and 48 percent less drug abuse, and it has been a resounding success in Nevada County.  

How do the mentally ill come to the attention of the authorities? Not as Mr. Bragen suggests. The police do not go out en masse and round up the mentally ill. Usually, the mentally ill come to the attention of the authorities through so called "quality of life" crimes like public intoxication, disorderly conduct, as victims of crime, or as perpetrators of crime as, for example, was the case with Laura Wilcox, shot to death by a mental patient who resisted his family's attempt to seek treatment.  

Perhaps, Mr. Bragen has confused Laura's Law with Cal. Health & Welfare Code Section 5150. Under Section 1550, when any person, as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer, member of the attending staff, of an evaluation facility designated by the county, designated members of a mobile crisis team, or other professional person designated by the county may, upon probably cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody and place him or her in a facility designated by the county and approved by the State Department of Mental Health as a facility for 72-hour treatment and evaluation. Any involuntary hold beyond 72 hours would have to be court ordered. 

The rights of the mentally ill are well protected. There is a court appearance and representation by counsel. By assuring timely and effective intervention for the disabling medical condition of severe mental illness, assisted outpatient treatment could restore the capacity of the mentally ill to exercise civil liberties and reduce the likelihood of the loss of liberty or life as a result of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization, victimization, suicide, and other common outcomes of non-treatment.  

While we as a society must safeguard the civil rights of the unfortunate, we also have an obligation to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Laura's Law provides such safeguards.