Detaining the Mentally Ill

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An ongoing series on the state of mental health and access to treatment in rural Oklahoma. The project is enabled by a grant from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

Many mentally ill individuals enter the mental-health system through encounters with law enforcement officers. Officers and others can take various actions even if the person doesn’t consent:

Protective Custody: An officer detains a mentally ill person and takes the person directly to a mental health center for an evaluation, which must occur within 12 hours after being taken into protective custody. If the individual is suspected of committing a crime, officers often take the person to jail instead. The jail can send the person to a facility for a mental-health evaluation.

Emergency Detention: If a mental-health evaluation determines the person requires emergency detention and they don’t voluntarily admit themselves, officers must transport them to the nearest approved mental-health inpatient facility with an open bed. The person can be placed under emergency detention for up to five days, excluding weekends, although certain mental-health crisis stabilization centers limit stays to less than 24 hours.

Involuntary Civil Commitment: Family members, police officers, prosecutors or a mental health professional may file a petition in court seeking involuntary civil commitment of an individual. A hearing is held, and if the judge grants the request, the individual can remain in emergency detention beyond five days. The person cannot be held in emergency detention for more than 72 hours before the hearing.