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Involuntary Commitment
(Alert for 2/24/03)


This general report was provided by Daniel B. Newby on 2/24/03:

Note: This write-up is intended for your personal use and to disseminate—either in email or hard copy—to your friends, colleagues, fellow citizens, media, and elected officials. The bill discussed has been selected because it either promotes freedom or it poses a significant risk to freedom.

Threat Synopsis: Currently, under Utah law, when you are merely accused of mental illness, you can be involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Your fate is decided by a judge or his appointed commissioner, and you will likely have to contend with the "professional" opinion of state-funded psychiatrists. You have no trial by jury, you do not have to commit a crime, and (as with property forfeiture schemes) you have little recourse. If committed, these same psychiatrists may subject you to mind altering drugs and other "treatments."

Senate Bill 27 Substitute 3, by Senator Leonard Blackham, will likely be heard on the house floor tomorrow (Monday)! This bill would drastically loosen the standards by which you may be committed to a mental institution against your will. It eliminates the current "immediate" standard of protection, and utilizes a new, loose definition under "substantial danger." The bill language is poorly written, very vague and open-ended, and therefore can be used to target just about anyone for just about any reason. Being nebulous is unacceptable when it comes to committing and "treating" citizens against their will.

Below is additional information on the bill. Read what you can, but it is very important to take action immediately!



2. Senate Bill 27 Substitute 3: The Details.

3. Shocking Committee Testimony by Sen. Blackham and His Cohort, Jack Tanner of UBHN!



As Lando Calrissian put it: "This deal just keeps getting worse all the time." Instead of working with citizens to make SB 27 better, Sen. Blackham keeps listening to sources determined to promote another agenda. He is not listening to our concerns and has proven that he cannot be trusted to run any serious bill that might affect our rights and freedoms. Therefore:

1. Call (and, if possible, fax) your representative at the capitol and tell him to oppose Senate Bill 27 S3 or any other substitutes and to oppose ANY effort to loosen involuntary commitment standards.

House main number: (801) 538-1029

House main fax: (801) 538-1908

See our Elected Official Contact Information page.
Note: Make sure you identify yourself and your contact information, the legislator you want to reach, and keep the message succinct and relatively short. Because of the volume of email messages that senators and representatives receive, your email message may never be considered in time.

2. Forward this message to your family, friends, and any activists you know. Encourage them to get involved and help stop this dangerous bill.


2. Senate Bill 27 Substitute 3: The Details.

Each time SB 27 comes out, there are new surprises. In the interest of time, I will limit this analysis to the most heinous attacks on your rights:

Eliminates the "Immediate" Standard: The bill eliminates the specific time-frame requirement that the accused pose an "immediate" physical danger to himself or others Without this restriction, judges would have almost complete latitude to sentence the accused based upon mere predictions of future behavior. According to the latest substitute:

301 (b) because of the proposed patient's mental illness he poses [an immediate] a

302 substantial danger, as defined in Section 62A-15-602 , of physical injury to others or himself,

303 which may include the inability to provide the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing,

304 and shelter, if allowed to remain at liberty;

Lady Justice (Justitia) wears a blindfold representing impartiality and holds scales representing generality and uniformity. She is supposed to deal with reality in the here and now. According to over 200 years of American tradition, she is supposed to treat people as innocent until proven guilty of some crime. This bill would have Justice remove her blindfold and replace her scales with a crystal ball. The word "immediate" is an important protection and must not be removed!

Loose Definition of "Substantial Danger": According to the substitute:

174 (13) "Substantial danger" means the person, by his or her behavior, due to mental

175 illness:

176 (a) is at serious risk to:

177 (i) commit suicide,

178 (ii) inflict serious bodily injury on himself or herself; or

179 (iii) because of his or her actions or inaction, suffer serious bodily injury because he or

180 she is incapable of providing the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter;

181 (b) is at serious risk to cause or attempt to cause serious bodily injury; or

182 (c) has inflicted or attempted to inflict serious bodily injury on another.

And what does "serious bodily injury" mean?

171 (12) "Serious bodily injury" means bodily injury which involves a substantial risk of

172 death, unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or

173 protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.

What does substantial risk of suffering "extreme physical pain" or "impairment of mental faculty" mean? Another way of asking the same question: What could that not mean? (Notice that, again, the "immediate" standard is missing.)

Or what about "is at serious risk to cause or attempt to cause serious bodily injury" in the definition of "substantial danger" above? What does serious risk mean? Again, without the "immediate" standard, how far into the future can this prediction apply to?

And how many homeless and poor citizens are incapable of providing basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter to the degree that they COULD be at serious risk "to suffer serious bodily injury"? If you think this interpretation is a stretch, read some of the shocking committee statements made by SB37 supporters in Topic 3.

Finally, in the words of Senator James Evans at the bill's senate committee hearing: "How do we make sure that it [the definition of "substantial danger"] is not elastic and goes so far it could be used for political reasons or just medical reasons?"


3. Shocking Committee Testimony by Sen. Blackham and His Cohort, Jack Tanner of UBHN!

When Senate Bill 27 S1 was presented at the February 5, 2003 Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee hearing, the sponsor spoke and then called upon Jack Tanner, Director/CEO of the Utah Behavioral Healthcare Network, Inc. (UBHN), to assist him in his presentation.

UBHN "consists of all of the community mental health and substance abuse providers in Utah that operate under the responsibility of Local Mental Health and Substance Abuse Authorities (County Governments). Its fourteen [organization] members deliver the public services for mental health and substance abuse throughout the state" (see their website at http://www.ubhn.org/). The UBHN membership roster includes the Utah Division of Mental Health (see http://www.ubhn.org/members.html).

I obtained an audio tape copy of the hearing, and wanted to share my observations with you as well as some direct quotations from the committee, Sen. Blackham, and his co-presenter Jack Tanner. I have chosen those topics that I feel are the most defining as to the enormous danger this bill poses to your freedom.

Who Are the Mentally Ill According to Sen. Blackham and His Cohort, Jack Tanner of UBHN?

Question (Senator James Evans): There are many people who are homeless that, quite frankly, have psychiatric disorders... You do have alot of homeless that are mentally ill and who cannot provide for themselves."

Answer (Senator Leonard Blackham): "Well, then maybe they should be there [involuntarily committed] is what I’m saying."

Statement by Jack Tanner: "If a homeless person is mentally ill and is a ‘substantial danger’ even as defined in here [the bill], I think the right for that person to receive care is just as great as anyone else in society. So, the issue of, ‘Will there be people who are homeless who will be placed in this system?’ If the answer is yes, and they meet the qualifications, I think they surely deserve that treatment as well as anyone else in society. I mean, they’re human beings. I guess it doesn’t bother me...

"We’ve got people who are druggies and they choose to be druggies; they like to be druggies. You think they’re free? They make that choice... but do you think they’re free? Well, I don’t think they’re free. I don’t think they have much freedom at all. I think that the addiction they have has stolen most of their freedom from them.

"Alcoholics. Do you think they’re free? I don’t think they’re free. I think their addiction has stole their freedomtheir choices are limited. I think some of it’s mental illnesssevere mental illness, and we’re not talking just mild obsession and things like that...

"I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that our definition of freedom is one where you’re not addicted to something to where you’re choices are limited. And I think many of these folks with severe mental illnesstheir choices are limited. And I think in reality commitment, and especially where they have such a high success with it, can free those people to a normal life. And I haven’t yet to define normal, but at least it will be normal for them."

Response (Senator James Evans): With all due respect, sir and Senator Blackham, based upon your analysis, then we should also commit the drug addicts and alcoholics because they’re not free. And this is where we could start expanding this into defining who’s free and who’s not and you could really, even based on your own analysis, theoretically include the drug addicts and alcoholics.

Additional Facts & Observations: The Utah Division of Mental Health (DMH) has asserted in a public document that nearly 150,000 Utahns suffer from serious mental illness. That equates to almost one out of every 15 Utahns. In a January 22, 2001, presentation to a DMH budget hearing, the Disability Law Center asserted that there are "100,000 Utahns living with mental illness [who] are being violated by the lack of care and service." (For more information, reference an article I wrote while employed at the Sutherland Institute)

Remember that DMH is a member organization of the Utah Behavioral Healthcare Network, Inc., and Jack Tanner is the Director/CEO of that conglomerate. He and Senator Blackham both appeared to be very concerned about the freedom that drug addicts and alcoholics lose by their addictions. Yet mind-altering drugs are at the top of the list for so-called "treatment programs"drugs that often create addictions and therefore restrict freedom. This is particularly alarming because it shows that these mental health "professionals" are somehow superior and omnipotent when "they decide" to restrict the freedom of others.

Consider this additional statement by Jack Tanner: "...What it [the bill] will enable us to do is to reach out to those people who need treatmentthose few people who don’t now meet the standard for commitmentand provide them with the services that they will need; and that’s who the bill is intended for. For those few who we can’t now get to because the standard does not allow us to."

How Concerned is Jack Tanner (UBHN) about Potential Abuse?

Statement by Jack Tanner: "I guess if we got to the point that law enforcement started to use this section of the code, you know, to simply clean the streets, if you want to use that terminology, then we would have to come in here and find a way to prevent that kind of abuse. This is not aimed at that. This is just aimed at the seriously mentally ill...."

Additional Facts & Observations: Do not be fooled. If "seriously mentally ill" has a broad application, rogue law enforcement agencies are the least of our worries. In the previous topic, Jack Tanner asserted that serious mental illness included alcoholics, "druggies," and appeared to include a broad segment of our poor and homeless classes. Senator Evans voiced the obvious concern: "Unfortunately, once the law is on the books, we’re subject to basically man and woman and how they use it."

What Does Jack Tanner (UBHN) Think of the Constitutionally-guaranteed Freedoms of Americans?

Question (Senator James Evans): "Secondly, on the predictive aspect, part of this bill rests on predicting what will happen, and that’s how you predict ‘substantial danger’... I’m trying to understand, how you predict future actions to make it a ‘substantial danger’?"

Answer (Jack Tanner): "That’s the judgement call the judge has to make. I mean, there’s no question about it, a judge has to sit in judgement on making those predictions of whether the substantial [danger] is enough to place in commitment. But you gotta go back again to the level of commitment that can occur here. It may be something nothing more than you need to take your medicine."

Statement by Jack Tanner: "I just want to say one more thing about rights. There has been discussion in the task force and other people have expressed thoughts about the effect of this bill on personal rights. Commitment is a curtailment of rights. And the right that is curtailed is the right to refuse treatment. But I guess the question I have in my mind is, are these people really free in the first place?..."

Additional Facts & Observations: Curtailment of rights means that persons who are involuntarily committed to a mental institution forfeit the following rights:

  • Right to trial by a jury of one’s peers. In Utah, only one man — a judge or his appointed "mental health commissioner" — decides your fate (see state statute 62A-15-633 and 78-3-31)
  • Right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty of a crime. In Utah, involuntary commitment is a civil procedure, and the accused need not be found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.
  • Right and/or ability to appeal your incarceration. In Utah, your appeal consists of a "review," essentially every six months, by the same judge or appointee of the court who committed you (see state statute 62A-15-641 and 61A-15-629). It can be very difficult to defend yourself once you are exposed to mind-altering drugs.
  • Right to refuse many mind-altering drugs and even experimental treatments. (There are efforts this session to strengthen this right.)

People who are involuntary committed have fewer rights than convicted felons at the Point of the Mountain who were found guilty of criminal wrong-doing by a jury of their peers. There are no safeguards under the current system and SB 27 S3 will only make matters worse.

Daniel B. Newby

P.S. The preceeding message was my personal opinion. To receive an alert on this subject directly, email me at daniel.newby@velocitus.net.


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