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Involuntary commitment law changed in Alabama; taking effect in July

Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 7:28 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Mental illness is something many people struggle with and has become a focus for state leaders in Alabama.

If it’s to the point where someone is in danger of hurting themselves or others, they can be forcibly placed under the state’s care, but a new law going into effect this July adds another qualifying reason a person can be involuntarily committed.

Currently, law enforcement officers can only transport someone in a mental health crisis if there’s an immediate danger of them hurting themselves or others, but that is changing with House Bill 70 which Governor Ivey has signed into law.

“If you have someone that is suffering from severe mental illness that is living in squalor, that is living in a hoarded home, that’s not managing their health affairs, not properly nourished, is not meeting their basic needs, but they might not be threatening themselves or someone else, that individual still needs help,” Frank Barger said.

Madison County Probate Judge Frank Barger says he’s been behind this bill since day one.

“It gives law enforcement an opportunity to help individuals that need help. Folks that make it to the court in these situations generally have exhausted their circle of support, or whatever their family or support system looks like. It’s generally an issue that’s accelerated excessively. They need it, they need help,” Barger explained.

The new law adds the condition that if someone is unable to meet their medical, and physical needs, a law enforcement officer can transport them to a mental health facility to be seen by a physician.

But that’s just the first part. The new law also adds an outpatient therapy piece.

Meaning after they are released when there’s no longer an immediate danger, they may be mandated by the court to participate in outpatient care.

“We certainly see folks come back into inpatient care repeatedly because they’re stabilized, there’s nothing to keep them in that environment anymore but they don’t have a support system to go back to. This helps with that a great deal,” Barger said.

But not everyone is in support of this.

“We have a functioning commitment system. We do not need to give police the power to conduct mental health commitments,” James Tucker said.

James Tucker, the director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program says he has several concerns.

“My logical question is, if it’s going to be easier to commit people, then more people are going to be committed. Where are the resources to support that individuals are going to need,” he said.

The new law takes effect this July.

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