Baker Act Failures Detailed Mentally Ill Can Be Confined under Law

By Pfankuch, Thomas B. | The Florida Times Union, December 29, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Baker Act Failures Detailed Mentally Ill Can Be Confined under Law


Pfankuch, Thomas B., The Florida Times Union


TALLAHASSEE -- Problems with Florida's law that allows for involuntary confinement of the mentally ill have led to the jailing of some patients who desperately need treatment and the freeing of some who should be locked up, a state Supreme Court commission reported yesterday.

The state's Baker Act is supposed to protect the legal rights of the mentally ill while also protecting the safety of the public by enabling the state to order the confinement and state-funded treatment of the mentally ill.

But a review of the law over the past year found problems that have led to partial failures of both missions.

The Supreme Court Commission on Fairness announced yesterday the results of a wide-ranging review of the Baker Act and its effectiveness, the first state examination of the Baker Act since it became law in 1971.

After presenting their report to the Supreme Court and the Legislature, leaders of the commission made several recommendations, including a call for legislative revisions to protect the rights of the mentally ill and increased funding they believe will improve the efficiency and expediency of the Baker Act. The statewide budget for the Baker Act has fallen from $49 million a decade ago to $48 million last year, the commission said.

The commission noted that Florida's population of 903,000 people who are either mentally ill or have Alzheimer's disease is larger than the population of seven states and the District of Columbia.

The review revealed a program with noble goals but with financial and logistical problems that lead to breakdowns in how mentally ill persons, including thousands of elderly Floridians, are treated by the state.

Major problems include:

Lack of legal and medical expertise among lawyers, prosecutors and judges who determine the fate of the mentally ill.

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