The Danger Zone: How the Dangerousness Standard in Civil Commitment Proceedings Harms People with Serious Mental Illness

45 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016

See all articles by Sara Gordon

Sara Gordon

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

Almost every American state allows civil commitment upon a finding that a person, as a result of mental illness, is gravely disabled and unable to meet their basic needs for food and shelter. Yet in spite of these statutes, most psychiatrists and courts will not commit an individual until they are found to pose a danger to themselves or others. All people have certain rights to be free from unwanted medical treatment, but for people with serious mental illness, those civil liberties are an abstraction, safeguarded for them by a system that is not otherwise ensuring access to shelter and basic medical care.

States’ continued and primary use of dangerousness standard in civil commitment proceedings does not meet our obligations to people with serious mental illness. Continued perceptions of the link between mental illness and violence, coupled with the strict interpretation of commitment statutes based on states’ parens patriae authority, have resulted in commitment standards that effectively commit people only when they are dangerous, which is often far past the point that they are in need of help. Courts and psychiatrists should recognize states’ obligations to provide health care to people with mental illness by interpreting gravely disabled statutes to allow for commitment when an individual is unable to provide for her basic needs but does not pose a danger to herself.

Keywords: Mental Health, Mental Illness, Disability, Civil Commitment, Parens Patriae, Dangerousness Standard, Gravely Disabled

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Sara, The Danger Zone: How the Dangerousness Standard in Civil Commitment Proceedings Harms People with Serious Mental Illness (2016). Case Western Reserve Law Review, Vol. 66, No. 3, p. 657, 2016; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2771349

Sara Gordon (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States
(702) 895-5813 (Phone)
(702) 895-2482 (Fax)

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