Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Felonies before treatment

While mental health courts offer an excellent alternative - treatment instead of prison for people with mental illnesses - they still require that a crime be committed before treatment is ordered. A recent story in San Francisco Weekly profiled mental health courts and the life of Steven Winters and his struggle with mental illness.

“In one year, he [Winters] was evaluated by jail psychiatric workers 18 times, and each time he was released back out onto the street instead of being sent to a treatment program. He didn't slip through the cracks — he didn't want to get better, and no one could force him to.”

“He got into [mental health] court because he finally committed a crime that had serious repercussions — he was charged with attempting to derail a train, a felony.”

Winters is finally getting treatment because legal leverage was used.

“…Winters' case seems to show that sometimes, a little coercion is just what the doctor ordered. It's hard to get a paranoid person like Winters into treatment, notes his caseworker, Kyong Yi, "That's what's great about behavioral health court," says Yi. "Using that legal leverage, they could get him in the door where he wouldn't go otherwise."

That's what got Winters to start taking the antipsychotic medication he'd been avoiding for decades.

Legal leverage works when used in mental health courts and in assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). The difference is that AOT doesn’t require someone to commit a crime before they receive treatment.

It’s too bad California hasn’t implemented its AOT law. People like Winters should be able to get treatment before they commit a felony.

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