SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Governor Gavin Newsom’s new law is drawing heavy criticism from advocacy groups who say forcing mentally ill and homeless Californians into institutions will only cause more harm.

Newsom signed CARE Courts SB 1338 into law on Wednesday during a ceremony held in San Jose.

The Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project is voicing strong opposition to the bill. APTP asserted that court-ordered hospitalization and medicalization are ineffective, as well as violate an individual’s human right to voluntarily seek mental health treatment.

“This bill will force Californians living with mental health disabilities into ineffective, involuntary and dangerous court-ordered treatment,” APTP wrote in a statement released Thursday.

Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, (D-Stockton), co-authored the bill. “Our behavioral health system is broken and has allowed too many people with severe mental illness to fall through the cracks,” Eggman said. “The crisis is playing out on our streets. The CARE Act provides a critical new on-ramp into the behavioral health system for a population of people that are the hardest to reach.”

The law will be implemented statewide and will start with a phased-in approach. The first counties to implement CARE Court will be San Francisco, San Diego, Glenn, Orange, Riverside, Stanislaus and Tuolumne.

The new law gives courts the power to order people in crisis to be involuntarily institutionalized and forced to submit to treatment plans. The Governor’s Office asserts that the law will create a paradigm shift in the mental health system to “empower individuals suffering from untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders … with care and services they need to get healthy.”

“Newsom’s CARE Courts bill will not stop homelessness and it will not stop our mental health crisis. The last thing that unhoused, the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction need is more surveillance that subjects them to being targeted by the police. The only real solution is permanent housing, access to adequate health care and community support,” said James Burch, deputy director of the Anti Police-Terror Project.

The APTP coalition says Newsom’s new law will “target, harass, and cage Black and brown Californians” at a disproportionate rate.

“It’s clear that CARE courts will continue this country’s legacy of disproportionately policing and caging Black people. CARE Courts will be a stain on Newsom’s legacy as future generations will ask how such an attack on human rights came to pass,” Burch said. “Time and time again California has dropped the ball when it comes to providing real support for the unhoused.”

Gov. Newsom signs CARE Court into law during a ceremony held in San Jose on Sept. 14, 2022. (Image courtesy Office of Governor)

According to the Governor’s Office, CARE Court was created based on the evidence that people with untreated psychosis can be stabilized in “care settings” with treatment and support. The plan focuses on people with schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, who may also have substance use challenges.

The CARE process will provide a person with less-restrictive options before — if deemed necessary by a court — they are committed to a state hospital or ordered into an involuntary LantermanPetris Short Mental Health Conservatorship.

People who are institutionalized must fit certain criteria, such as a person who is “unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision and the person’s condition is substantially deteriorating,” CARE Court writes.

Cat Brooks, Justice Teams Network executive director, said, “In the same way that the 1994 Crime Bill was celebrated by a powerful few while Black and brown activists raised the alarm, so too have we been calling on Governor Newsom to stop this dangerous legislation from becoming the law of the land. In signing the CARE Courts bill, Newsom signed his legacy as a human rights violator.”

CARE stands for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Act.

CARE Court received bipartisan and near-unanimous approval in the state Senate and Assembly. The framework is supported by the state’s $15.3 billion investment in addressing homelessness, including $1.5 billion for behavioral bridge housing and $11.6 billion for mental health programs.