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.