Anyone detained and then formally committed under Wisconsin’s civil mental health laws can initially be held and forcibly drugged for six long months. Yet, for years, not a single person has been able to appeal the six-month commitments in court.
What’s the reason for this stunning abrogation of one of the few and arguably most important rights that ordinary, law-abiding, civilly committed mental health patients have? According to an internal review done for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, between 2018 and 2020 Wisconsin courts apparently never got around to holding those appeals.
The report didn’t explain the reasons in detail, nor say for how many years it’s been going on, but it acknowledged that the problem was rarely or never the fault of the patients. Rather, it appeared related to the fact that, at that time, Wisconsin was paying public defenders a meager $40 an hour, the lowest rate in the nation. Even still now, it can sometimes take months for a public defender to be found and appointed. It usually takes months more for obtaining transcripts, for the state’s attorney to respond, to get a court date, and so forth. Consequently, when the court date for the appeal of the commitment finally arrives, more than six months will have already gone by, and the case will be declared “moot” and summarily thrown out. Every single time.
However, as Wisconsin attorney Elizabeth Rich told Mad in America, this didn’t mean that patients would be freed at any time during this process, when it was impossible to appeal an initial commitment order. At the end of the six months, many patients would be put on new recommitment orders—and would have to launch a whole new appeal from square one.
This is just one of many systemic assaults on psychiatric patients’ rights in Wisconsin that Rich has been fighting against—and in some cases successfully changing. It’s a fight that Rich has made her own, in large part inspired by the death of her son, Andrew.
Click here to read the rest at Mad in America.