Homeless advocates say court-ordered mental health treatment violates civil rights

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that he wants the Legislature to approve the establishment of so-called mental health courts in each of California's 58 counties.

The controversial proposal is already getting push back from homeless advocates and civil libertarians.

On the grounds of Napa State Hospital, Newsom said mental health CARE Court is necessary.

"What the hell are we doing about those that are struggling? We've been stuck. I'll be candid with you, stuck for decades in a stale debate about whether or not we should reform a system that was designed in a world that no longer exists," said Newsom.

The CARE courts would be able to order mandatory treatment for thousands of California's 40,000 mostly homeless people who have severe mental health challenges or struggle with drug addiction. That is one-quarter of California's unhoused population. A public defender would represent them.

The idea is to get people into housing with necessary treatment, medicine, and rehabilitation in order to keep them out of trouble and out of jail. If those people decide not to cooperate, they would face potential prosecution for existing criminal charges, be in conservatorships longer or be psychiatrically committed for up to 24 months. All of this is designed to keep people from bouncing around California's widely scattered, chaotic patchwork of agencies.

"It's a recognition that if you continue to do what you've done, you'll only get what you've got. It's a recognition that we've got to do things differently," said Newsom.

But, civil rights and homeless advocates say it would violate the constitutional rights of such people. However, Newsom says new courts, with new directives as well as proper patient screening and public defenders, can protect rights better than the current system.

"The criminal justice system where judges, public defenders see people over and over and over and over again," said the governor.

Newsom has also proposed $2 billion to shelter psychotic, schizophrenic, and otherwise mentally disabled patients. That's in addition to $12 billion for beds and shelter, already approved by the legislature.

"Thirty-three thousand new units of housing and slots specifically for those struggling with mental illness and those who are struggling with substance abuse disorder," said Newsom.

First responders or family members would be able to refer such people to the court.