California CARE Courts: A New Approach to Mental Health Treatment and Crime

In 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill creating Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Courts, a new system of courts designed to provide treatment and support to people with untreated mental illness and substance abuse disorders who are at risk of, or are already, becoming homeless or of committing crimes. The focus of the plan is on those individuals suffering from schizophrenia spectrum and related disorders, The CARE Courts are intended to be a more effective and humane alternative to the traditional criminal justice system, which often fails to adequately address the needs of people with mental illness. The CARE Court is not a collaborative court but when an individual is referred to the CARE Court following an arrest, it essentially serves the same purpose as a collaborative court.

Candidates for CARE Court may be referred to the courts by a variety of sources, including law enforcement, mental health professionals, family members, and even roommates. An arrest of a CARE Plan candidate may also trigger enrollment in the program. A participant in the program must be diagnosed with untreated schizophrenia or other psychiatric disorders.  Once a person is referred to the CARE Courts, they will be assigned a judge and a team of professionals, including a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a case manager. The team will develop a treatment plan for the participant, which may include medication, therapy, and housing assistance. The court may order participation in a CARE Plan for up to 24 months. A participant who does not successfully complete the court-ordered CARE Plan may, under current law, be hospitalized or referred to conservatorship if no other alternatives are identified.

The CARE Courts are a promising new approach to mental health treatment and crime. By providing treatment and support in the community, the CARE Courts can help to prevent people with mental illness from committing crimes and from becoming homeless. The CARE Courts are still in their early stages, with Orange County being one of the first counties to implement the CARE Court. Orange County’s program is slated to begin on October 1, 2023.

Challenges Facing the CARE Courts

The CARE Courts are a new program, and they face a number of challenges. One challenge is that there is a shortage of mental health professionals in California. This shortage makes it difficult to provide adequate treatment to all of the people who need it.

Another challenge is that the CARE Courts are voluntary. This means that people with severe mental illness can choose not to participate in the program. This may make it difficult to reach people who need help the most. In addition, the Lanterman-Petri-Short Act (LPS), a law passed in California in 1967, puts constraints on involuntary psychiatric treatment and the CARE treatment programs may be impeded by the LPS laws already in place.

Despite these challenges, the CARE Courts have the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of people with severe mental illness. By providing treatment and support in the community, the CARE Courts can help to prevent people with mental illness from committing crimes and from becoming homeless. Incarceration or homelessness is not the answer for those facing severe mental health issues. Hopefully this initiative will help address this tragedy in our California cities.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg offers a free consultation to discuss your legal matter. You may contact him by calling his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by email at