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County Supervisors to Receive Briefing on Laura’s Law as Possible Resource for Helping Mentally Ill

Santa Barbara County's district attorney and Third District supervisor are encouraging the Board of Supervisors to approve a law that could help seriously mentally ill people obtain court-ordered treatment.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Joyce Dudley and Supervisor Doreen Farr are scheduled to present information to the board about Laura's Law, which allows a judge to order the most seriously mentally ill people who refuse help into a treatment program.

Farr and Dudley sit together on the Isla Vista Safety Committee, which has been searching for ways to improve safety in that community in the wake of the mass murders that took place there on May 23, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger killed six people before taking his own life.

Farr's district includes Isla Vista.

"Although it is impossible to know if Laura's Law could have impacted the recent tragic events in Santa Barbara County in Isla Vista and Goleta, closer monitoring and treatment of unstable and seriously mentally ill people may well serve to prevent another tragedy in the future," according to a board letter sent from Dudley and Farr. 

The law grew out of a 2001 shooting rampage in Nevada City carried out by Scott Thorpe, a man with an untreated mental illness.

Thorpe entered a county psychiatric facility and gunned down several people, including 19-year-old Laura Wilcox, who was working at the clinic during her winter break from college.

After her death, Wilcox’s parents joined up with the Treatment Advocacy Center to put together Assembly Bill 1421. With its enactment, the law gives judges the ability to order a six-month treatment program for an adult with an untreated mental illness who is unlikely to survive safely in the community.

Under Laura’s Law, people can be ordered to engage in a six-month treatment program that allows them to stay in their home or community and even keep working in their job.

There are conditions: The person must have been placed in psychiatric hospitalization or incarcerated in the last 36 months and/or committed violence toward themselves or others in the last 48 months, and must have been offered voluntary treatment and failed to engage and be substantially deteriorating.

A family member, law-enforcement officer, housemate, hospital or health agency director, or director of a nonprofit agency, can petition for a referral, and a judge will ultimately decide whether the person qualifies for court-ordered treatment.

Dudley and two other officials traveled earlier this summer to Nevada County, where the law originated, to see how it has affected that Northern California community.

"Nevada County's experience indicates that the mere presence of the Assisted Outpatient Treatment option increases participation in services by many who were previously resistant," states the board letter.

Santa Barbara County has looked at the law before, first in 2003, when it found that it did not have the resources to implement it.

In 2004, the county's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health team began its Assertive Community Treatment or ACT Program, which reaches out to severely mentally ill people in the community who cannot or refuse to seek help on their own.

In 2010, the county's Mental Health Commission designated 15 of the spaces in the ACT program to operate with components of assisted outpatient treatment, but did not choose to put in the judicial requirement if a person continued to refuse treatment.

Now, proponents of the law saw that with the Affordable Care Act in effect and new ADMHS grants coming in, the department could have more of a possibility of moving forward with Laura's Law.

An hour has been scheduled for the item on Tuesday's Board of Supervisors agenda.

The board will hear a presentation on the law, and could direct the CEO's office to look into the resources needed to move forward.

If they approve that approach, the CEO could return with those findings within six months.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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