LA County Launches CARE Court. This is what you can expect

(Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

LA County Launches CARE Court. This is what you can expect

LA Politics, Homepage News

Jaclyn Cosgrove
Thomas Curwen

November 30, 2023

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mental health program, known as CARE Court, arrives Friday in Los Angeles County, where officials express optimism it will help with the homelessness crisis.

“We know that there are too many people with serious mental illness living on the streets,” Janice Hahn, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said at a news conference Thursday. “We’ve seen them all, and so far we haven’t been able to reach them or get them the care they need. That’s why what we’re doing here today is so important.”

The LA County Department of Mental Health, first responders, family members, domestic partners or spouses can petition the court to begin the process of enrolling someone in the state-funded program.

Those who file a petition can attend their private CARE Court proceedings virtually or in person at the Norwalk Courthouse


or at one of twelve county courthouses with free private rooms for people involved in hearings.

The CARE Act, which Newsom signed into law in 2022, requires each California county to open specialty courts that offer voluntary treatment and services. This differs from assisted outpatient treatment, a more restrictive form of treatment that involves the court.

Officials estimate that 4,500 people in LA County could be enrolled in CARE Court in the first year.

Seven counties San Diego, Orange, Glenn, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and San Francisco were the first to implement the CARE Act. Their courts opened on October 1. 1, and two months later, provide a glimpse of what LA County could expect.

Rural counties have seen less interest than urban counties. Glenn County, north of Sacramento


in the Sacramento Valley, has not received any petitions, according to its behavioral health director

Joe Hallett


Nine petitions have been filed in Stanislaus County, and one has been approved, the county supervisor said

Terry Withrow

, who described some of the challenges of getting people into a CARE plan. The lack of documentation is striking; Petitioners must provide proof of psychiatric hospitalization.

In Southern California, the legislation is starting to have a more noticeable impact.

The Orange County CARE court received 35 petitions. Fourteen met the criteria of the CARE Act and have progressed to the Ministry of Health. Of those fourteen, one was dismissed, and for eight others the fourteen-day period was extended so that the person could be located.

The remaining difference is in exercise, says Orange County behavioral health director Veronica Kelley. The judge may have received some of the paperwork or may want to give the petitioner more time.

According to a spokesperson, 20 petitions were filed in Riverside County, with dozens of questions – for those that did not meet the criteria, they were referred to behavioral health services for follow-up.

The San Diego County CARE Court received 42 petitions. Two were fired by the judge and the rest were sent to Behavioral Health Services, which fired six others. Thirty-four are active, said Luke Bergmann, the county’s director of behavioral health services.

When asked about the rollout of the CARE Act during a press conference on Monday,

Gov. Gavin



the program so far as a pilot project


confidence that the original estimate of between 7,000 and 12,000 people participating in the program would be realized within a few years.

“I’m excited about what it promotes and promises,” he said.

LA County was originally scheduled to open its CARE Court in 2024.

At Thursday’s news conference, Hahn said the county moved up the launch in part because she and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass have worked together to model a different behavior in local politics, “without pointing fingers and no blame, especially for the homelessness crisis. “

Historically, the city and county have had a complex, sometimes cantankerous relationship over who should fund services and who is responsible for which aspects of addressing the thousands of people who sleep outside every night in LA County.

Hahn said voters gave the city and the county


of dollars to build homes and shelters, practice street medicine


and funding outreach teams to get people into mental health care.

“But the status quo just didn’t work for everyone,” Hahn said. “And we felt so strongly that CARE Court was that missing piece of the puzzle.”

To qualify for the CARE Court, a person must be at least 18 years old and have schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. People with bipolar disorder, regardless of whether they have psychotic symptoms, are not eligible under current law.


one participant is his

illness should prevent them from performing daily tasks. They may not already be treated in a voluntary treatment program. They must be getting sicker and sicker


in danger of not surviving without supervision, or


need supervision to better ensure that no leakage occurs.

The CARE court must be the least restrictive option for them, meaning the court would find that the person would not succeed by simply being enrolled in a provincial outpatient mental health clinic to regularly see a therapist. And the court must find that the CARE Court would benefit the person.

Civil rights advocates have long expressed concerns that the CARE Court will lead to more people being killed


forced into involuntary treatment, and that this effort is generally a misguided way to help people.



chief program officer of SHARE!, a nonprofit mental health and housing organization, said Thursday that research has shown for decades that people with serious mental illness and substance use disorders need social support and social relationships, such as those in prevent self-help groups.

to recover


“That’s what our mental health system is really not good at, and it’s something that the CARE Court doesn’t address,” Robison said. “Because [CARE Court] focuses on ensuring someone is compliant with medication and goes to a treatment team.”

CARE Court places the responsibility for success on the person petitioning the court, not on the service providers who too often try to enforce compliance and control, rather than delaying and meeting the person’s needs provided, he said.

Each CARE Court participant in LA County will be represented by the Independent Defense Counsel’s Office, housed in the LA County Public Defender’s office but independently administered.

Marco Saenz, who leads the team of 50 CARE Court lawyers, said


In addition to protecting the civil liberties of the individual in the CARE Court, attorneys will also be charged with doing what is in the best clinical interests of the client.

This also means that if the client does not want to participate, he or she is not forced to do so.

“In this system, the lawyer is there to take care of it [looming punishment] is not created, that the system remains voluntary, that the threat of involuntary medication, involuntary hospitalization, those very real concerns that are rational


for people to have, that there is some kind of protection, said LA County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.

Times staff writer Hannah Wiley contributed to this report.


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