By Signing SB 1338, Governor Newsom Signals His Favor of Forced, Court-Mandated Treatment of People with Substance Use Disorders and Other Behavioral Health Challenges Over Evidence-based Public Health Solutions
Los Angeles, CA – September 15, 2022 – Yesterday, Governor Newsom signed SB 1338, The CARE Act, into law. The CARE Act aims to create a civil court system in all counties that would force people who are experiencing substance use disorder and other mental health issues to undergo an involuntary court process and treatment plan. Although the CARE Act sailed through the legislature, the proposal was opposed by a wide range of advocates who feel it is a huge step in the wrong direction. It will take away people’s basic right to make their own decisions and force them into court-mandated treatment programs, which have been shown to often exacerbate harms while worsening existing health disparities and the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal legal system. The CARE Act will fail to meet the urgent needs of our communities or offer a path to effective evidence-based treatment, recovery and other health services for Californians who are unhoused, struggling with substance use disorder, or experiencing other mental health issues.
In response, advocates in opposition to the CARE Act released the following statements:
“The Drug Policy Alliance strongly opposes this plan. Governor Newsom shamefully vetoed SB 57, an overdose prevention center program bill with the false excuse that it wasn’t thoroughly vetted, researched or planned out. Like his veto of our overdose prevention bill, approving the CARE Act will have similar dire consequences that will harm people who use drugs and marginalized communities in California rather than investing in the support and services that are proven to help and keep people alive,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Instead, the Governor’s signature on SB 1338 demonstrates his ill-conceived support for an inhumane and forced program that has a solid body of evidence showing how counterproductive and harmful it is for both mental health and substance use disorders. We need carefully thought out and evidence-based public health solutions to address the crisis we are seeing people on the ground face, including access to housing, food, job training and voluntary health services. “
“Care Court is not an effective solution to entrenched and chronic homelessness. Instead, California needs to build a continuum of care to assist those vulnerable Californians transitioning from their crises to wellness and recovery,” said Kara Ka Wah Chien, Managing Attorney of the Mental Health Unit at the San Francisco Public Defender. “We need resources to provide access to care, stable housing for all, bolstered programming capacity, and more workers to provide adequate clinical care.”
“As service providers, we know how difficult it is to serve those who are mandated into services and already have such a shortage of treatment and mental services available for those who wish to access services. CARE Court will not accelerate the recovery of people with mental illness, but rather will overwhelm a system that already falls short in serving the most in need,” said Maria “Alex” Alexander, Executive Director of Center for Living and Learning.
“The infrastructure for mental health & substance use treatment just simply does not exist,” said Soma Snakeoil, Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Sidewalk Project. “Not only is forced treatment ineffective, there simply are no resources available to implement this strategy. You can’t place someone in a bed that does not exist. This new bill is a joke. It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that this will inevitably lead to further criminalization & incarceration of our most vulnerable.”
“California needs a paradigm shift: One that meets fundamental housing needs, provides robust supportive services, and fully funds voluntary treatment. Housing and evidence-based services, at scale, can end homelessness for Californians with behavioral health disabilities. CARE Court cannot,” said Mari Castaldi, Senior Legislative Advocate on Homelessness at Housing California.