In August, following a public outcry, the Board of Supervisors asked county healthcare employees to prepare a report explaining how Laura's Law would work — and how much it would cost to implement — in Orange County.
Their request came almost exactly a month after the brutal beating death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic man who had bounced in and out of treatment for decades.
On Thursday, county health officials put out a nine-page report about how Laura's Law would work here. The report is nuanced, but their message is clear: NO.
The law, which is named after a college student who was shot by a mentally ill man who refused treatment, took effect in 2003 and leaves it up to each county to decide whether they want to implement the court-ordered, intensive treatment plan. For a more detailed explanation of Laura's Law, who qualifies and how it has worked in Nevada County, check out Tracy Wood's story for the Voice of OC.
The county's report acknowledges that in some cases this approach might sway some people, who otherwise wouldn't, to enter treatment. But, the list of disadvantages, the report says, includes: “cost, new and complex requirements, civil liberty issues, and questions of effectiveness.”
Implementing the program in Orange County would cost between $5.7 million and $6.1 million a year, the report says.
Carla Jacobs, an Orange County resident and board member of a national nonprofit that advocates for improved mental illness-treatment laws, however, says she thinks the cost estimate and a lot of other information in the report is inaccurate.
In Nevada County, the only county to fully implement it, Laura's Law actually works as a money saver, says Jacobs of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “For every dollar they spent, they reduced spending by $1.80 in hospitalizations and arrests. In Orange County, they overlooked the fact that Laura's Law is a money saver, not an extra cost.”
Jacobs also takes aim with the county's statement that making people go to treatment might be a “civil liberty” infrigement. “That was all solved when the law was passed on the state level,” Jacobs says. “It has ample due process in it to protect people's civil liberties. And, there's nothing very civil about leaving someone psychotic out on the streets to die.”
Despite the report, Jacobs says she's hopeful the county supervisors will “thoroughly investigate” the law and choose to implement it in Orange County.
When the board does vote on the issue (a date hasn't been specified yet, and it definitely won't be at tomorrow's meeting), they can either vote to keep things as they are now, to implement the law in its entirety or to opt for a pilot program that implements certain aspects of the law.