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PRESS RELEASE: Disability, Civil Rights Groups Say Fundamental Questions Must Be Answered Regarding ‘CARE Court’ Proposal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

After issuing a letter in strong opposition, groups request specific answers for core components of proposal

Sacramento, CA – With Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for a so-called “CARE Court” set to be heard by the legislature this week, and after more than 40 advocacy groups including ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and Western Center on Law & Poverty submitted resounding opposition to its related bill, SB 1338 (Umberg & Eggman), advocates say fundamental questions remain unaddressed by the administration and bill authors.

The specific questions advocates have about the proposal include:

  1. How would the CARE Court respond to the crisis of insufficient housing and treatment availability for people who need either or both?
  2. How would the CARE Court avoid reinforcing systemic racial biases which result in disproportionate numbers of Black and brown people unhoused and under court supervision?
  3. How would the CARE Court achieve effective outcomes with coerced treatment where evidence has consistently supported adequately resourced voluntary treatment instead?
  4. How would the CARE Court avoid fast-tracking vulnerable people with disabilities to conservatorship and the diminution of their autonomy and legal rights?

The joint opposition letter sent to legislators this month unequivocally states that the framework of the proposal is entirely and irreparably flawed. Specifically, if these fundamental questions go unaddressed, the proposal is simply bill language without substance.

“Instead of creating a new court system to delegate medical care, California should guarantee housing for people who are unhoused and for those with severe mental health disabilities,” says Helen Tran, health attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Forcing people into court-ordered treatment without guarantee of permanent housing will create a continuous cycle of court intervention when people find themselves back on the street due to California’s severe lack of affordable, permanent supportive housing. State funds should be directed toward the creation of housing and supportive services to help people maintain their housing and health care needs.”

The groups say the proposed CARE Court model will lead to unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities and unhoused people and will likely create a chilling effect that prevents people from seeking supportive services for fear of being institutionalized or otherwise having their rights stripped. The proposal also feeds into the false narrative that most unhoused people have a psychiatric disorder.

“CARE Court is a fast track to re-institutionalize Californians living with mental health disabilities,” says Kim Pederson, senior attorney at Disability Rights California. “The state should invest in evidence-based practices for voluntary engagement in community-based, trauma-informed, culturally-responsive mental health services. Instead, CARE Court creates a punitive system under which a person must comply with court orders or risk being conserved and institutionalized. True recovery and empowerment can only come from providing people with meaningful opportunities to make their own choices about the services that will work best for them.”

Additionally, by involving the legal system the proposal will perpetuate institutional racism and exacerbate existing disparities in health care delivery since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders than white people, and because there is clear evidence that adequately resourced, intensive, voluntary outpatient treatment is more effective than court-ordered treatment.

“At a time when there is an unprecedented housing crisis that disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color, many of whom have already been entangled in failed legal and other systems, this proposal if enacted would have disastrous consequences,” says Brandon Greene, director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California. “What we need is investment in holistic community driven systems not punitive ones that further alienate and ostracize.”

Read the full letter of opposition.

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ACLU California Action is the statewide legislative policy arm of the ACLU affiliates in California. The ACLU works to protect civil liberties and civil rights and advance equity, justice, and freedom for all.

Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities.Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

 

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“The Western Center on Law and Poverty pointed to a 2020 state audit that found many people put under conservatorship wound up with limited treatment and follow-up while the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office called the proposal a “band-aid” approach falling short of the fully funded mental health system California needs.”

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