Nov 22, 2010

civil commitment and the illegal drugs resolution

Is it possible for a public health approach to the abuse of illegal drugs to be coercive? In a previous post, citing quarantine as an analogue, I argued that it is. Thanks to a conversation with Mr. Cushman, an attorney friend, I'll explore a second potential analogue for a non-criminal yet coercive public health approach: civil commitment.

Civil commitment is
... process in which a judge decides whether a person who is alleged to be mentally ill should be required to go to a psychiatric hospital or accept other mental health treatment.... A civil commitment is not a criminal conviction and will not go on a criminal record.
On what grounds can someone be civilly committed?
A person can be committed if after hearing from witnesses a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person has a mental disorder and, because of that mental disorder, is:
  • Dangerous to self or others, or
  • Unable to provide for basic personal needs like health and safety.
Why shouldn't similar criteria justify civil commitment for drug abusers, under the supervision of medical personnel?

And, on the other side, what's the difference between this and a criminal penalty, other than the lack of a criminal record? Is it a distinction without a difference? (And does that point flow Negative?)

It's important to point out that civil commitment is a procedure that exists in free societies, although not without controversy, especially since it clearly violates Mill's harm principle.


Marissa said...

Why wouldn't this be part of the criminal justice system? If a judge of the system is the one deciding whether an individual should be civilly committed, is this not inherently criminal justice?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, post your question over on that page, and I'll answer it over there and then delete it here.

Marissa, not all courts are criminal courts; contracts, divorces, wills, juvenile justice, and more are all within the jurisdiction of civil courts. A civil commitment does not go on your criminal record.