Continuing my discussion on mental illness and the criminal justice system, I now turn to a little-known California law that was enacted in 2002, known as Laura’s Law. This legislation, codified in the California Welfare and Institutions Code, sections 5345 et seq., permits the court to order certain persons to obtain assisted outpatient mental health treatment. Directed at seriously mentally ill adults who have previously been treated in a mental health unit of a correctional facility or have a history of one or more acts of violence towards self or others, this law permits the county mental health department to file a petition to the court requesting the subject individual be ordered to treatment. A request to the mental health department to file the petition may be made by the subject individual’s parent, sibling, or spouse, or by a person who resides with the subject individual. The request can also be made by treatment centers, hospitals, or other care agencies who are providing care to the subject individual or by a peace, parole, or probation officer. Extensive due process requirements are written into the law; the court must carefully consider defined criteria before ordering an individual to treatment.
For my clients who are struggling with a mentally ill adult child or sibling who is caught in a seemingly endless revolving doorin the criminal justice system, this statute could provide relief. The provisions of Laura’s Law leave implementation of the statute to each individual county and has been adopted by Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. In fact, Orange County was the first large county in California to adopt the law.
Laura’s Law is not the same as what is known as a 5150 hold, where a person can be involuntarily committed to psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours for an assessment and possibly 14 additional days for treatment. (Welfare and Institutions Code sections 5150 and 5250.) Laura’s Law does not commit a person to a facility; rather, it is an order for outpatient treatment. Unlike 5150/5250 holds, which mandates the release of the mentally ill individual from treatment whether he or she has shown any improvement after the statutory period, Laura’s Law mandates sustained and intensive treatment until a mental health professional deems the individual well enough to maintain treatment on their own.