SLO County Board of Supervisors should implement Laura’s Law

April 23, 2012


The murder of 61-year-old Earlene Grove by her mentally ill daughter Sunni Jackson, in Paso Robles most likely wouldn’t have happened if the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors had implemented Laura’s Law.

Laura’s Law allows courts to order certain individuals with serious mental illness–like Sunni, who have a history of non-compliance with psychiatric treatment–like Sunni, and a history of violence–like Sunni, to stay in treatment as a condition of living in the community. They get full due process and the right to help develop their own treatment plan.

Laura’s Law helps patients and keeps the public and police safer. When Nevada County implemented Laura’s Law it found it reduced incarceration of people with mental illness by 65 percent. It reduced hospitalization, 46 percent; cut homelessness 61 percent, and emergency contacts 44 percent. That’s why it is supported by organizations as diverse as the California State Sheriff’s Association, California Psychiatric Association, and San Luis Obispo Alliance on Mental Illness.

The supervisors can’t claim they didn’t know Laura’s Law saves lives. In 2010, when mentally ill Cliff Detty died in restraints at a mental health facility that he wouldn’t have been in had he received community treatment, his father told reporters Laura’s Law would have saved his life. Op-eds by experts said the same thing.

In 2011, after mentally ill Andrew Downs was committed to a hospital for the Christmas Day shooting of two women, Diane O’Neil, the past president of a local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter  wrote an op-ed on behalf of parents of the mentally ill explaining how Laura’s Law would have prevented the tragedy. It goes on and on. The supervisors don’t have to wait for the next death to act. But they probably will.

The supervisors can’t claim there is no money to implement it for two reasons. First, Laura’s Law saves money. Nevada County found it saved $1.81 to $2.52 for every dollar invested. Los Angeles County estimated it saved taxpayers 40 percent for the care of each person enrolled. The savings come from reduced hospitalization, arrest, trial and incarcerations.

The second reason is that San Luis Obispo County receives well over $2 million annually in Proposition 63/Mental Health Service Act proceeds they are supposed to use to help the most seriously ill get treatment. But rather than use it provide services to people with serious mental illness and implement Laura’s Law, the Mental Health Services Agency used a chunk of it to fund a documentary on “stigma” to put on a website and then congratulated themselves for doing it.

Is that why Californians voted to tax themselves with Proposition 63? They didn’t feel there were enough documentaries on websites? And think about it. Will a documentary on a website saying there should be no stigma ever be enough to overcome the stigma caused this past week by letting mentally ill Sunni Jackson go untreated and ultimately commit matricide?

As the Surgeon General’s report on mental illness pointed out, it is fear of violence by people with untreated serious mental illness that causes stigma. If San Luis Obispo wants to reduce stigma, implement Laura’s Law.

What the supervisors will most likely claim is that a recommendation didn’t come from the mental health department. They don’t have to wait for one. They can lead. Few mental health departments want to implement programs that require them to focus on the most seriously mentally ill as opposed to the worried well. Don’t wait. Act.

The county Mental Health Services Agency may tell the Supervisors that MHSA proceeds can’t be used for Laura’s Law, echoing opponents of the law. But as California mental health advocate Mary Ann Bernard notes, the now extinct State Department of Mental Health issued a regulation saying they can. As Carla Jacobs of the California Treatment Advocacy Coalition points out, “Nevada County uses their MHSA funds for Laura’s Law. Los Angeles County uses their MHSA funds for Laura’s Law. Why can’t San Luis Obispo County?”

DJ Jaffe is the executive director of Mental Illness Policy.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Make a documentary.

Hire a person with a six figure salary to end homelessness for good in the county.

Vote Adam Hill and Jim Patterson to keep up this great work and solve all of our problems!

I suggest hiring a food critic to help us eat healthier since I have seen quite a few fat people here in our county.

I guess my biggest concern would be who makes the determination that a mentally ill patient has the propensity to be dangerous? Certainly not the county crony shrink all on his own? There is too much room for abuse when we start implementing these laws. I would hope that at least one immediate family member would have to agree and that a second outside opinion from another professional would have to concur. Once programs like this get started, the directors start looking to expand and then they start deciding to involve people with lessor type illnesses such as illnesses like depression, claiming that those people are a danger to themselves.

This stuff is dangerous. The law must be very carefully crafted, with built in checks and balances that protect society from those who would abuse the rights of other citizens, who the law was never intended to encompass in the first place. Remember, no good deed goes unpunished these days.

Thanks for the info. I didn’t know anything about Laura’s law, but it’s obviously something that would help families of schizophrenics and would help with public safety.

I would also like to ask why Dr. Penny Boorstein has not advocated this policy for the county. Is there anything that she does besides go to meetings and sit like a lump? We deserve better. We want more information on infectious diseases in our county, and she seems to follow the policy of “public ignorance of the problems is bliss”.

Now we see that there is a program for the mentally ill that could help us in this county. Thanks to DJ Jaffe for this article so we know that something can be done.