If media reports are true, Scott Dekraai -- hereinafter to be saddled with the "Seal Beach Salon Shooter" sobriquet -- had bipolar disorder, a history of violence, wouldn't stay on treatment, and was a perfect candidate for Laura's Law except for one fact: Orange County mental health officials -- like mental health officials throughout California -- refuse to implement Laura's Law.
Laura's Law allows courts to order certain persons with serious mental illness (only those who have a prior history of violence, incarceration or hospitalization caused by going off treatment) to stay in treatment as a condition for living in the community. More importantly, it 'involuntarily commits' the reluctant mental health officials to accept people with serious mental illness into their programs. Under Laura's Law, they lose some ability to cherry pick the easiest to treat for services, spend mental health services act money only on them, and send the rest to the criminal justice system.
According to an interview with Carla Jacobs, California's leading advocate for Laura's Law, Scott would have likely qualified. According to a report of his wife's court filing, Scott Dekraai:
is a diagnosed bipolar individual who has problems with his own medication and his reaction to same, and he certainly shouldn't be allowed to have unilateral and unfettered control of any and all medical and psychological aspects of our son's life.
The article goes on to say Scott himself previously called 911 because he thought he was danger to self or others. Still no treatment. Other news reports show he threatened his wife as recently as two months ago and CBS reports:
Court records show a temporary restraining order was obtained by Dekraai's stepfather in 2007 after the man said Dekraai attacked him, leaving him with cuts and bruises on his face and right arm. The order also said his young son had witnessed the attack.
Orange County families of people with serious mental illness have been begging the county to implement Laura's Law as a way to help get care to their mentally ill loved ones. So are advocates throughout the state led by Randall Hagar, himself the parent of a child with mental illness who now works with the California Psychiatric Association to try to make progress. James Bassler wrote a brilliant piece about his efforts to get care for Aaron in Mendocino before he shot two and how without Laura's Law he was forced to watch his son needlessly deteriorate.
Laura's Law Works
A major independent study published in the May 2011 Issue of Psychiatric Services found the odds of arrest for a violent offense were 8.61 times greater before participants entered New York's version of Laura's Law than after.
Versions of Laura's Law implemented in New York (Kendra's Law) show it helps the seriously mentally ill by reducing homelessness (74%); suicide attempts (55%); and substance abuse (48%). It also keeps the public safer by reducing physical harm to others (47%) and property destruction (46%). And it saves money by reducing hospitalization (77%); arrests (83%); and incarceration (87%). Nevada county, which reluctantly implemented a law to settle a suit, believes it saved them $500,000 annually.
There is money available.
Money is, surprisingly, not the issue. The Mental Health Services Act created funds for counties to use for people with 'severe' mental illness. But as I wrote in Capital Weekly, instead of using Mental Health Services Act funding to fund programs for the seriously mentally ill, they largely waste MHSA funds on making the worried-well, worry less. And even without Mental Health Services Act funding, Laura's Law would make financial sense. Nevada County found Laura's Law saved $1.80 for every dollar spent.
All 58 California counties should immediately implement Laura's Law. There really is no reason to wait for more to die.
Additional Reading on failure of California mental health authorities to prioritize serious mental illness: