ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why I Object to Laura's Law

Jack Bragen
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 08:42:00 AM

My objections to Laura's Law are largely based on reading the text of the law, and how it will affect the basic human rights of persons with mental illness in upcoming years. I feel that Ralph Stone in his recent article isn't giving you the whole truth about this law, and I believe much of what he states is misleading.

It is fine to tritely say that opponents of this law believe it badly affects "civil rights," but let me outline what some of that really means.

To begin with, Laura's Law criminalizes having a mental illness. This assessment is based on the facts that: Firstly, it uses a court order to control a mental health consumer. Secondly, written into this law, the only recourse, if there is a grievance, is to go to the Public Defender. Laura's Law immediately entangles a mental health consumer into our court system.  

To continue, the law is written with some instances of vagueness. For example, the listing of how a person can be qualified to be a recipient of the program. The preface of this says "…if the following are true…" This could be interpreted to mean "any" of the following, and I believe that is the intent behind that instance of vagueness. In that case, there are a number of ways that a person with mental illness can become enmeshed in Laura's Law. One of the qualifiers simply states that in someone's assessment, the consumer "could benefit" from AOT. Nothing must be proven in order to qualify someone for these "services." A cooperative judge could get into a habit of rubberstamping applications.  

A second vagueness in the law consists of what qualifies an individual to be a member of a treatment team. The law specifies "a multidisciplinary team of highly trained professionals." But it contains no further specifics. A high school dropout could be a member of the treatment team, based upon this.  

A third problem I see in this law is its lack of provision to assure quality of care. If a consumer is unhappy with how he or she is treated, his or her only recourse is to go to the Public Defender. The law doesn't provide any other grievance procedure, and it fails to provide an unbiased overseeing body.  

Another problem is the lack of specifics of how a visit from the treatment team will play out. By not specifying what will occur and not occur in these visits, you are leaving it up to the discretion of the treatment team, which I have already said, could consist of high school dropouts. Is the consumer to be forced to swallow pills? Are they to be injected by force with medication? If not, then what is to take place? Typically, a court order under Laura's Law might be accompanied by an additional order to give forced medication.  

I assume that, so far, Laura's Law is performing okay, because we are still in its honeymoon period. However, I seriously question the validity of the statistics that Mr. Stone has rattled off. I believe that in future years, this law could become a monstrous method for mistreatment.  

To read the text of Laura's Law, go here: