Commentary: Civil Commitment Statutes—40 Years of Circumvention

Journal American Academy Psychiatry Law 38:365– 8, 2010: William H. Fisher, PhD, and Thomas Grisso, PhD


“Civil commitment statutes are in many ways social peculiarities. Like criminal codes, they allow the state to deprive individuals of liberty, but unlike those codes, commitment statutes, while more narrowly constructed now than a half century ago, are decidedly lacking in specificity regarding what behavior may or may not justify confinement. Instead, key components of those statutes, such as mental illness and dangerousness, are left to be defined largely on a case-by-case basis by clinicians charged with making decisions about involuntary hospitalization. In some cases, this vagueness has allowed significant latitude in the way a statute is applied and to whom. And often, variation in a given statute’s applications are driven, not so much by variance in the judgment of clinicians, as by a range of social, political, and even
economic factors.

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