- Report Published -
|Review of Involuntary Commitment Process|
|Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission|
|Appropriation Act - Item 15. (Special Session I, 1994)|
|Involuntary commitment is a process by which an individual with a mental illness, who is a danger to self or others, or who is unable to care for self, may be temporarily detained and committed to a hospital on an involuntary basis following a hearing. In the United States, there is no federal law or process which specifically addresses involuntary civil commitment. Involuntary commitments are governed by State laws.|
The Code of Virginia, in §37.1-67.1 through §37.1-90, directs the adult involuntary commitment process in the Commonwealth. There are two major stages in the process: (1) the petition and pre-hearing detention period, and (2) the involuntary commitment hearing. The statutes allow for a short period of involuntary temporary detention during which time the individual is evaluated. The results of the evaluation are the basis for the outcome of the involuntary civil commitment hearing. Unlike many other states, Virginia has established an involuntary mental commitment (IMC) fund to pay for the medical and legal costs associated with the temporary detention period and the involuntary commitment hearings.
Item 15 of the 1994 Appropriation Act continued a study mandate which directed JLARC to "examine the fiscal issues related to the Involuntary Mental Commitment Fund and the operational and policy issues involving the involuntary mental commitment process." The mandate further directs JLARC to make recommendations which are designed to promote efficiencies in the process.
Overall, the Virginia involuntary civil commitment process serves to protect an individual's due process rights. However, there are some areas in which the process could be improved. For example, variations in the process may result in individuals being involuntarily detained who do not present behaviors indicative of mental illness. The recommendations presented in this report build on the strengths of the Virginia process while addressing some current deficiencies in the process. The major findings of this report are:
Through more efficient and effective use and oversight of the involuntary commitment fund, an estimated annual fund savings of almost $1 million (with net State savings of more than $500,000) are potentially achievable.
Although Code of Virginia statutes governing the process provide important safeguards, it appears that process improvements could be made to promote equitable treatment of candidates for commitment, and to promote greater efficiency through improved procedures for determining who needs to be detained and held for a commitment hearing.
Due to the public safety issues involved, law enforcement officers should continue to have a role in the transportation of individuals during the process, but there may be opportunities to reduce the number of transports required.
Compared to processes in some other states, Virginia's involuntary commitment process has some strengths, including a shorter period of detention prior to the commitment hearing; however, the comparison indicates some areas of weakness, such as pre-screening for detention, detention criteria, and hearing oversight.
Judicial decisions within the involuntary commitment process are made within the context of available mental health services and decision-makers within the process raise concerns about the availability of treatment alternatives.