On MindSiteNews, Josh McGhee has this investigative piece on a Florida state law — originally created to provide humane treatment to those in crisis — that has led to a wave of forced treatment and involuntary holds for children as well as adults, with young Black children heavily overrepresented:
“The 9-year-old Florida boy was having a bad day. Two days earlier, his grandmother and legal guardian had notified Lantana Elementary School in Palm Beach County that there had been a death in the family and that he might be struggling as a result. The boy, identified as “D.P.” in legal papers, had also been diagnosed with autism and attended school in a classroom with other children with autism and intellectual disabilities.
His grandmother’s warning went unheeded. When his teacher declined to let him use a computer, D.P. became upset and began throwing stuffed animals around the room. When things like this had happened before, his teachers let him take a walk or sit by himself for a while. Not this time. Two staff members restrained D.P. face down on the floor and called a school district police officer, who handcuffed the boy, put him in the back of a police car and took him to the hospital for an involuntary mental health exam. He called the boy’s grandmother to let her know what he was doing, but he did not ask for her consent.
Seizing children and adults and placing them on involuntary mental health holds happens so frequently in Florida it has become a verb: Baker Acted – a reference to a law passed in 1971 and known officially as the Florida Mental Health Act. Like many state laws of that era, it was intended to reduce some of the horrors of asylum care while allowing for severely mentally ill patients who might be a danger to themselves or others to be evaluated and committed for involuntary treatment, even if they didn’t consent.
After years of steady increase, the number of Baker Act holds reached a peak in 2019–20 when Florida residents were subjected to more than 200,000 mental health holds – and then declined for the first time as the Covid pandemic began.
The law as originally passed expressed the intent that forced examination and treatment be performed with ‘the least restrictive means of intervention’ and that ‘individual dignity and human rights be guaranteed.’ Instead, it has become a dragnet of sorts that brings hundreds of thousands of adults and children to hospitals and mental health facilities where they can be held for up to three days – five if the days fall on a weekend.
Indeed, over the past 10 years, adults in Florida have been seized and subjected to 1.5 million forced psychiatric exams, and children – some as young as 5 – to 335,000 such forcible exams under the Baker Act.”
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