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Politics & Policy

CARE Courts—the controversial plan to compel people into drug, mental health treatment—set to become law

Photo of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will likely sign CARE Courts into law.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a bill signing ceremony at Nido's Backyard Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco on Feb. 09, 2022. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom is poised to sign the sweeping CARE Court bill to address the state’s mounting homelessness and mental health crisis by allowing judges to order residents deemed unable to make medical decisions for themselves into treatment.

The Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, which the state legislature passed overwhelmingly Wednesday, targets people with severe mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. It requires counties to provide them with comprehensive treatment or face possible sanctions and holds individuals accountable for completing it.

The “passage of the CARE Act means hope for thousands of Californians suffering from severe forms of mental illness who too often languish on our streets without the treatment they desperately need and deserve,” Newsom said in a statement.

While the legislation sets up a broad framework for getting thousands of the state’s most vulnerable residents into drug and mental health treatment, big questions remain over how to fund and staff such an expansion of services at a time when treatment beds can be hard to find.

The authority given judges to order people into treatment also raises concerns about protecting their civil liberties. Individuals could be referred to the courts by clinicians, health workers, family members, first responders and the criminal justice system. To protect the rights of those referred, they would have a public defender to represent them in court.

If an individual fails to complete their court-ordered plan, which may last as long as 24 months, they can then be referred to a conservatorship or return to the criminal court system.