Referendum on Outpatient Committal in San Francisco?

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“Laura’s Law” enabling involuntary psychiatric treatment on an outpatient basis could be put to San Francisco voters in a referendum, according to a city government press release. Aljazeera America reports that most U.S. states have passed similar laws, but so far only two California counties have done so. Eduardo Vega of the San Francisco Mental Health Association told Aljazeera America that the reason is, California legislators have looked at the actual scientific evidence – Vega pointed to a comprehensive review for the California Senate which found no evidence supporting such laws. “The involuntary outpatient commitment process has not shown better results than the actual services that people get without a commitment process,” Vega said.

The Board of Supervisors press release states that, “Numerous academic and government studies of [Assisted Outpatient Treatment] show that it drastically reduces hospitalization and incarceration rates, length of hospital stays, arrests, suicide attempts, victimization and violent behavior.” However, the RAND review for the California Senate clarifies that such results typically are produced by an accompanying increased provision of community supports and services for people, not from the use of force.

San Francisco debates controversial mental health law (Aljazeera America, June 14, 2014)

Supervisor Farrell to Introduce Laura’s Law In San Francisco (Press Release, City & County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, May 20, 2014.)

The Effectiveness of Involuntary Outpatient Treatment – Empirical Evidence and the Experience of Eight States (RAND, 2001. PDF)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the interfaces between psychiatry, civil rights, policing, surveillance and privacy, and social change. His articles have been nominated for seventeen magazine and journalism awards. His book Your Consent is Not Required: The Rise in Psychiatric Detentions, Forced Treatment, and Abusive Guardianships will be released in January 2023, and can be pre-ordered through BenBella or major online booksellers. He can be contacted through his website.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I think what has happened here is that there were not enough votes on the Board of Supervisors (six is a majority) to put the law into effect, but enough votes (four) to put it on the ballot. This could be good for our cause if our local movement comes out in force to oppose this. Back in 1982, as a lot of MIA readers know, we put a ban on shock treatment on the ballot, and won. There was national and even international publicity.

    Whichever way the vote comes out will be incredibly important for us. Asa far as I know, the only other time an issue restricting psychiatric power was ever on a ballot was our shock ban in 1982.

  2. With the over-the-top social ills so evident daily in San Francisco and the high stress and fears this is causing in the city, my fear is that most voters would favor Laura’s Law. When I was working with SF Mental Health Association, it was a main focus of theirs to keep this off the table. I hope they can spearhead a movement to sway voters in favor of civil liberties.

  3. This “Lauras Law” should include the right to a trial by a jury of ones peers just like any other time the govt takes peoples freedom to chose whats in there own bloodstream.

    And when is the referendum on these ?

    1. Rebecca Riley Law
    2. Gabriel Myers Law
    3. Emilio Villamar law