SF Public Defender Office Argues Governor Signing New Mentally Ill Measure ‘Step in Wrong Direction’

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – After California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 43 into law this week, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office issued a statement criticizing the measure, claiming it will “make it easier for the government to detain individuals in locked facilities who are mentally ill against their will.”

SB 43, authored by Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), “changes state conservatorship law to expand the definition of when a person is ‘gravely disabled’ and can be involuntarily detained and conserved by authorities,” said the PD.

In fact, according to the public defenders, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced an “executive directive” this week to implement the law immediately.

The SF Public Defender’s Mental Health Unit represents clients with mental health disabilities in both civil and criminal proceedings, including conservatorship hearings. Conservatorship is a court proceeding in which a judge appoints a third party to direct the psychiatric treatment and finances of someone who has been deemed “gravely disabled.”

“Individuals with mental health disabilities frequently fall through the cracks of our legal system and receive substandard treatment at government facilities rather than appropriate treatment in the community,” said Deputy Public Defender Tal Klement. 

Klement argued the new law “is a step in the wrong direction,” noting SB 43’s expansive and overbroad definition of “‘gravely disabled’ raises serious concerns more people with mental health disabilities will lose their right to receive treatment in the community and will instead be warehoused in locked institutions in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

“It defies logic that Gov. Newsom has made potentially thousands more individuals with mental illness eligible to be held against their will when our mental health treatment system is already overburdened and unable to care for those who have already been detained or conserved,” said Deputy Public Defender Roberto Evangelista, who manages the SF Public Defender’s Mental Health Unit. 

Evangelista added, “Patients face extensive wait times to access meager and appropriate treatment as it is. Individuals with mental health disabilities need more and better treatment opportunities in the community that support their independence and autonomy, not more confinement.”

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