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Civil Rights Advocates Worry Newsom’s CARE Court Is Too Coercive

A man with slicked-back hair and wearing a suit touches his temple while speaking.
File: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a bill signing ceremony at Nido's Backyard Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco on Feb. 9.
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Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to compel treatment for people with severe mental illness or substance abuse disorders is raising concerns among civil liberties advocates.

Newsom said the goal is to help people who "simply can't help themselves.” He has described CARE Court as an alternative to criminal court or conservatorship, but participants could still end up there if they don’t go along with the program, which can include court-ordered psychiatric medication.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a supporter: “Driving into City Hall I saw a woman walk into traffic, muttering to herself, and we see trauma all around us. This is unacceptable in our world, let alone in our state and our cities.”

But forcing people into treatment could violate their civil rights, said Kath Rogers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

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“Why are we turning to coercive treatment when people still don't have access to voluntary treatment and permanent housing resources? So this is really a false choice,” she said. “We don't need to choose between coercive treatments and letting people die on the street. That's a false dichotomy.”

Rogers cited one 2014 study from the National Institutes of Health which concluded that empirical evidence doesn’t support the use of coercive treatment.

She also pointed to a 2019 California audit that found counties already have sufficient authority to provide short-term involuntary treatment and that expanding criteria to include additional situations in which individuals may be involuntarily treated could potentially infringe upon people’s liberties.

Police are among those who would be able to make referrals to CARE Court, and Rogers said she worries officers may use that as a way to sweep people into the system.

The ACLU has pushed an alternative to involuntary treatment referred to as “supported decision-making,” which you can read more about here.

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