SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – San Francisco is poised to implement its own version of a California law that allows for court-ordered treatment for severely mentally ill patients.

“Laura’s Law” is named for Laura Wilcox, a college student who was murdered by a schizophrenic man with a history of violence who had refused treatment. It lets counties throughout California opt in to a system in which the mentally ill, like Wilcox’s killer, can be forced into treatment.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the city will roll out a version of the law on a permanent basis this year to help mentally ill homeless people get treatment. But, San Francisco will avoid the most controversial aspect of the law – by making compliance voluntary.

Presently, only Wilcox’s community, Nevada County, is actively using the system. San Francisco does have a voluntary pilot program, which Mayor Ed Lee said in his recent State of the City address he would like to make permanent.

“It’s time to implement San Francisco’s version of the so-called Laura’s Law,” he declared. “To help the severely mentally ill, who we too often see on our streets.”

San Francisco’s pilot program is a voluntary version of Laura’s Law – meaning somebody can not be committed to treatment against his or her will.

“It is working,” said Lee. “Preliminary results show great success helping people achieve and maintain greater stability. So this year, we’ll make that pilot program of San Francisco’s version of Laura’s Law permanent.”

There has been opposition to mandatory psychiatric treatment, including from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. The association’s executive director, Eduardo Vega, said people have to want to get help to achieve results. Given the voluntary aspect of San Francisco’s use of the law, it could succeed.

“Involuntary commitment has never been shown to significantly reduce anything except the immediate, short-term impact on an individual,” Vega cautioned. “If you engage people positively in productive conversations about their situation, people will come along.”

“We support this shift away from a coercive approach, into one that engages people. Programs that threaten people with incarceration or hospitalization, where the hospitalization is essentially a punishment, just has not been shown to work,” said Vega.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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