Until now, Florida could commit a mentally ill person to custody only if a judge deemed the person a threat to themselves or others. Under a law that took effect Saturday, reports the Associated Press, Florida courts will be able to order that mentally ill people undergo community-based treatment if they have a history of not taking their medications and have behaved violently in the past three years. The idea behind the new law is to prevent crises from developing by taking steps to ensure people with mental illnesses take their medicines.
State Sen. Durrell Peaden, one of the law’s sponsors, said it will help keep some people with mental illness out of jail cells and emergency rooms. “They were ending up in the emergency rooms or ending up assaulting folks because they were off their medications,” Peaden said. The Florida Sheriffs Association has pushed for the change; it faced opposition from families of people with mental illnesses and from public defenders concerned about the privacy and due process rights of the mentally ill. Florida was one of only nine states that did not have an outpatient option in its commitment law.