MENTAL HEALTH COURTS IN U.S.
By Jim Rarey
January 23, 2001
The Congress has quietly authorized
establishment of not more than one hundred (demonstration) mental health courts
in the United States. An amount of $40,000,000 (over four years) was authorized
to set up the courts under the supervision of the US Justice Department.
The original bill (S1865) was sponsored by Sen.
Mike Dewine of Ohio and co-sponsored by Sen. Domenici of New Mexico, both
Republicans. However, it was rewritten by Sen. Orin Hatch (R. Utah) in his
Senate Judiciary Committee and reported to the floor without a written committee
The bill passed the Senate on Sept 26, 2000
under "unanimous consent" (without objection). The House adopted it on
Oct. 24th by voice vote under a suspension of the rules. President Clinton
signed it into law on Nov. 13th.
Thus, there is no record of how anyone voted on
the measure or how many were present at the votes.
That's the history. Now for the law's
The law would apply to all "preliminarily
qualified offenders" defined as persons having,
"previously or currently been diagnosed
by a qualified mental health professional as having a mental illness, mental
retardation, or co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorder, or
manifest obvious signs of mental illness, mental retardation or co-occurring
mental illness and substance abuse disorders during arrest or confinement or
before any court.."
The term "mental illness" means a
diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that meets diagnostic
criteria within the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
It provides for continuing judicial
supervision, including periodic review of "preliminarily qualified
offenders" who are charged (not convicted, but charged) with misdemeanors
or nonviolent offenses. The list of offenses that would subject a person to the
jurisdiction of these "mental health courts" is to be developed by the
Attorney General in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services
and any other officials deemed appropriate.
The law also provides for "centralized
case management" involving,
"consolidation of all of a mentally ill
or mentally retarded defendant's cases, including violations of probation, and
the coordination of all mental treatment plans and social services, including
life skills training, such as housing placement, vocational training,
education, job placement, health care, and relapse prevention for each
participant who requires such services.."
Would opposition to a "Gay Rights city
ordinance" be enough to bring one under the jurisdiction of a mental health
court? You bet. For years the American Psychiatric Association classified
homosexuality as a mental disorder. About fifteen years ago they dropped that
and added "homophobia" (disapproval of homosexuality) as a mental
disorder. If this law were enforced as it is authorized to be, that would be
evidence enough to make the person a "preliminarily qualified
offender." Off to mental health court he would go.
Another (intended?) consequence of falling
under the jurisdiction of a mental health court is that it would undoubtedly
trigger the federal law prohibiting the ownership or possession of a firearm.
You say it can't happen in America. Well, it
Permission is granted to reproduce this article
in its entirety. The author is a free lance writer based in Romulus, Michigan.
He is a former newspaper editor and investigative reporter, a retired customs
administrator and accountant, and a student of history and the U.S.
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