Orange Country in California has approved Laura's law, a program that would allow court-ordered treatment of individuals who are mentally ill.
California passed the law in 2002 but allowed each of its counties to decide for the adoption of the program. Prior to the unanimous decision of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to adopt Laura's law on Tuesday, Nevada County was the only county that implemented the law.
Calls to adopt Laura's law heighted in the Orange County though after Kelly Thomas' death three years ago. Thomas, who was homeless and suffering from schizophrenia, was killed after fighting with the police. Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, believe that the law could have saved his son.
"The law wouldn't have saved him that night he was killed. We all know that, but my contention is it would have kept him off the streets in the first place," Ron Thomas said.
Laura's law was named after 19-year old college student Laura Wilcox who was killed with two others in 2001 by a mentally ill gunman. Scott Harlan Thorpe, who was suffering from delusional paranoia, resisted efforts by his family to get him treated. He went on a shooting spree and eventually killed Wilcox after convincing himself that the FBI was attempting to poison his food.
Laura's law was passed to ensure that people with severe mental illness who may pose a threat to themselves and to others get outpatient treatment. Families of mentally ill patients who lobbied for the implementation of the law said that court-ordered treatment of mentally ill individuals, who may not acknowledge their own illness, could lessen the number of mental patients who get jailed or become homeless.
"The goal would be if we could provide services to help these individuals, young or old, to avoid a life of crime or a life of homelessness," said John Moorlach, member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. "At the end of the day we would save a lot more by not having to incarcerate them or put them in a temporary homeless shelter or some other related costs."
The law is targeted for mentally ill adults who have been in jail or hospitalized for mental illness and are considered violent. The program is estimated to cost up to $6.1 million per year and will be enforced starting October.