Civil Rights: Pennsylvania Bill Would Allow Involuntary Commitment of "Drug Dependent" People

A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature would allow judges to order "drug dependent" people into involuntary drug treatment, including inpatient treatment, upon petition by that person's family members. Introduced by Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-Delaware), HB 1594 would allow for repeated 90-day commitment orders -- apparently without end.

The bill would allow the courts to order a drug and alcohol assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist specializing in drug and alcohol assessments and treatment, or a certified addiction counselor. If the assessors deem the respondent in need of treatment, the court could impose a 90-day treatment order. Before that period is up, another hearing would be held and another 90-day treatment order could be issued. According to the bill, "The court may continue the respondent in treatment for successive ninety-day periods pursuant to determinations that the person will benefit from services for an additional ninety days. The court may also order appropriate follow-up treatment. If the court finds, after hearing, that the respondent willfully failed to comply with an order, the court may declare the person in civil contempt of court and in its discretion make an appropriate order, including commitment of the respondent to prison for a period not to exceed six months."

In other words, if a court deems you a drug dependent person in need of treatment, you can theoretically be detained indefinitely in treatment or even be sent to prison if the court is not satisfied with your progress.

What makes the bill especially frightening is the broadness of the standard definition of "drug dependence," the most widely used of which is that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV). Under its criteria countless marijuana smokers -- and even coffee drinkers -- could be considered "drug dependent." According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2000, some 14.5 million Americans fit the definition.

According to Keystone State observers, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere. It has been sitting in committee for months. But given that it represents such a frightening example of the drug war's totalitarian impulse, it is worth noting.

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Truly, these are Dark Ages we live in

What riles me so is that these politicians keep coming up with all these harsher sentences and other ways to persecute "druggies" as if there were absolutely no costs to the taxpayer. We reformers really need to concentrate on getting the message out of just how expensive drug prohibition is and get them to wonder if it's worth it. A great many might think twice before they keep giving them Carte Blanche via their perpetual silence.

As a Pennsylvanian

I would reluctantly support this bill with the following changes.

1. No forced commitment without a related felony criminal conviction.

2. No prison commitment without a related felony criminal conviction.

3. The Bill must be entirely funded by the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of distribution to Pennsylvania's $ 6-billion annual consumer demand for intoxicant drugs.

This is what I am sending off today to my state legislators.

Prison Dependent Politicians

Two of the sponsors of this legislation, Democrat Kirkland who is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, and Democrats Staback have legislative districts where the population would fall below the maximum allowed apportionment deviation if they did not have prison populations in their districts. Prison populations counted for apportionment but not allowed to vote in elections.

The max. downward deviation was 2.89%.

Based on 2000 census numbers Staback's district would fall 4.14% below the average district apportioned size.

Kirkland's district would fall 3.35% below the district size.

These thugs need to keep their prisons full.

WELCOME TO THE SOVIET UNION OF PENNSYLVANIA

Thanks for posting this bill. I have written the following essay, for my blog, that I am distributing now to Pennsylvania media folks. Folks should feel free to steal this thought....

WELCOME TO THE SOVIET UNION OF PENNSYLVANIA

Indefinite quasi-judicial detention without criminal charges.

Imprisonment without a criminal conviction.

Americans might reasonably think that these are nothing more than the artifacts of authoritarianism from the now defunct Soviet Union. From Hitler's Third Reich. Or from the American Confederacy. And you would be wrong......

These are the tools written into Pennsylvania House Bill 1594 that is sponsored by sixteen Democrats and four Republicans including Black Caucus Chairman Thaddeus Kirkland Democrat of Chester.

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