Just a week after Governor Newsom’s CARE Courts started up to compel severely mentally ill people into treatment even if they don’t want it, Newsom has signed a new law that allows a broader interpretation of who can be forced into what they call conservatorship.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court strategy for compelling severely mentally ill people into treatment, even if they refuse said treatment, formally started having its hearings last Monday. The idea is that people with mental illness and/or drug addiction issues could be forced into involuntary treatment on the request of a family member or other party, a process called conservatorship. Though that law is only in effect in seven California counties (San Francisco among them).
California is overhauling our mental health system. We are working to ensure no one falls through the cracks and people get the help they need.— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) October 10, 2023
Thanks to @SenSusanEggman and countless others, we’re modernizing CA’s conservatorship laws for the first time in more than 50 years. pic.twitter.com/PKUhVUWbwM
But Tuesday morning, Newsom signed a bill from the legislature that expands conservatorship across California, according to the Chronicle. More specifically, the new law called SB43 updates the current law to allow compelling conservatorship to those who can’t provide their own food, clothing, shelter or medical care.
“California is undertaking a major overhaul of our mental health system,” Newsom said in a Tuesday statement. “The mental health crisis affects us all, and people who need the most help have been too often overlooked. We are working to ensure no one falls through the cracks, and that people get the help they need and the respect they deserve.”
Conservatorship is often framed as a strategy to combat homelessness, but from a technical standpoint, conservatorship can be applied to people who are not homeless. (Remember that Britney Spears was under conservatorship for 13 years.) As ABC News explains, the new law broadens the definition of “gravely disabled” so that it would include large swaths of the homeless population.
SF Mayor London Breed has been a big advocate for expanding conservatorship for years, and she’s all for this new law. “This is not about throwing people away, locking them up and throwing away the key,” Breed told the Chronicle before Newsom signed the bill. “This is about wanting to see people live with dignity.”
But disability advocates don’t see any dignity in forcing people into treatment programs, some of which involuntarily detain the person in question, which these advocates see as incarceration.
“We think that is just wrong,” Disability Rights California lobbyist Debra Roth told the Chronicle, also before Newsom signed the legislation. “This bill will subject more patients to the trauma of involuntary detention.”
But for all the tough talk about tough love, the nagging reality is that many communities in California (like SF) do not have the staffing or the shelter beds to implement these conservatorship policies. So this may be political theater to create the appearance of a “crackdown.” Though per ABC News, Newsom is working on his own sweeping proposal to fund 10,000 more shelter beds and programs statewide, and that $6.3 billion measure is expected to go before voters in the March 5, 2024 election.
Top image: California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to reporters in the spin room following the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on September 27, 2023 in Simi Valley, California. Seven presidential hopefuls squared off in the second Republican primary debate as former U.S. President Donald Trump, currently facing indictments in four locations, declined again to participate. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)