The state of Florida has a law, the Baker Act, that permits authorities to detain a person with mental illness for up to 72 hours, involuntarily, in a mental health facility. Certain criteria must be met in order for a person to be held under this act. The law, sponsored by Maxine Baker, a Florida House Representative from 1963 to 1972, was created as a result of her work on mental health issues. It was originally called the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971. It is now commonly called the Baker Act.
Criteria for the Baker Act
According to law, a person can be held involuntarily in a mental health facility if:
There is reason to believe the person is mentally ill.
The person refuses a voluntary exam or cannot determine if such an exam is necessary.
The person will probably suffer from neglect or will potentially harm themselves or someone else in the near future.
Within those 72 hours, decisions need to be made. The person can be released or referred to outpatient treatment if they have been involuntarily committed to a Baker Act receiving facility. If there has not been a discharge within 72 hours, the person can be asked to voluntarily consent to stay, or an administrator can petition the court for the involuntary commitment to continue. In this case, the person can remain in a mental health facility for up to 6 months.
Pros and Cons
While the Baker Act was instituted to protect both the people with mental health issues and the public, it falls short in providing substantial help to those who need it. There are controversies about how and when to enact it.
More work still needs to be done on helping those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others. The Baker Act remains a step in the right direction when it is used properly. Some individuals point out, however, that it does not do enough to truly help those who need help. When it fails, people can and do get hurt.
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