Thursday, May 24, 2007

Enough excuses – it’s time to take civil commitment laws seriously

It is heartening that there is a serious investigation of the failure to follow-up on court-ordered mental health treatment for Seung-Hui Cho who was determined to be “imminently dangerous.” But, the local Community Services Board (CSB) seems to be digging itself a bigger hole all the time with excuses.

First, when told that Virginia law requires the CSB to recommend treatment and monitor care for a court-ordered outpatient, a CSB spokesman responded - that’s "news to us."

Now, the CSB’s executive director says that “his agency was never notified that Cho was a candidate for outpatient treatment and was never ordered to devise a treatment plan as required by state law” – because no CSB representatives attend commitment hearings.

But, the CSB had to know about Cho. Unlike many other states, the CSB is the sole gatekeeper in VA. Nobody even gets before a special justice for a civil commitment hearing unless the CSB approves. I doubt the Legislature intended that the CSBs only be responsible for keeping people out of civil commitment. The statute ensures the CSBs evaluate all individuals before they enter the civil commitment process - so they always have notice of which individuals are in trouble.

Leading people to the door for commitment without meeting them when they come out is not a good excuse.

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