Jerry Brown signs bill speeding involuntary medication of inmates

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Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law that will speed up the process of involuntarily medicating dangerous patients held in state mental hospitals because they have been deemed incompetent to stand trial in county courts.

The bill, written by Assemblyman Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa), is part of a broader effort to tackle the high levels of violence at the state hospitals. It was triggered by the strangulation of Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross one year ago.


Allen, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on State Hospital Safety, said Gross’ death and the beating of another employee six weeks later at the same facility highlighted the ‘inherent and increasing danger for both patients and staff at our state hospitals.’

In 2010, there were more than 8,300 aggressive incidents at the five state hospitals and more than 5,100 injuries to patients and staff -- which translates into about 23 assaults and 14 injuries a day, Allen said.

Under the old law, medication could be administered only if the inmate consented at his or her original court hearing. If the individual withdrew that consent after entering the state hospital, a new hearing was required before involuntary medication -- a process that can take months. The new law lets courts make involuntary medication decisions at the same trial at which patients are committed to the state facilities.

Allen said his bill “does not erode any current due process rights for patients, and in fact adds a periodic court review of medication orders, a protection that patients currently lack.”

-- Lee Romney in San Francisco