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Suggestions for Future Mental Health Hearings About Civil Commitments

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As we mentioned in another post, we are grateful to Senator Hob Bryan and Representative Sam Creekmore for conducting hearings about people with mental illness being held in jail while they await care. The board and leadership of Families as Allies believe this issue needs as much public and transparent examination as possible.

We urge the following for future hearings:

  1. Couch all discussions about civil commitment in the context that the overarching goal must be to have a responsive and effective system of care in which civil commitment is rare and is only an option when there is an imminent threat of danger.
  2. Invite people who have gone through the commitment process and their families to share their experiences, especially if law enforcement held them in jail instead of at a care center.
  3. Be very cautious about legislating or mandating that families take steps to get treatment for their loved one before pursuing commitment. Such mandates could inadvertently put the family or the person with the mental illness at risk for harm.
  4. Ensure laws that already exist are being maximally used to keep people who need mental health care out of jail. We recommend an examination and public discussion about this law that the legislature passed in the late 1990s:

“The State Board of Mental Health shall have the following powers and duties:
To establish mental health holding centers for the purpose of providing short-term emergency mental health treatment, places for holding persons awaiting commitment proceedings or awaiting placement in a state mental health facility following commitment, and for diverting placement in a state mental health facility. These mental health holding facilities shall be readily accessible, available statewide, and be in compliance with emergency services’ minimum standards. They shall be comprehensive and available to triage and make appropriate clinical disposition, including the capability to access inpatient services or less restrictive alternatives, as needed, as determined by medical staff. Such facility shall have medical, nursing and behavioral services available on a twenty-four-hour-a-day basis. The board may provide for all or part of the costs of establishing and operating the holding centers in each district from such funds as may be appropriated to the board for such use, and may participate in any plan or agreement with any public or private entity under which the entity will provide all or part of the costs of establishing and operating a holding center in any district.”

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