Louisiana Improves Law For Treating Mentally Ill

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A new law making it easier for someone with a severe mental illness in Louisiana to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment was signed by Governor Bobby Jindal. The law, which unanimously passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year, will take effect on August 15.

"Nicola's Law," named after slain New Orleans police officer Nicola Cotton, whose death might have been prevented if similar interventions were already in place, swept through the Louisiana House on June 4. The Senate unanimously approved the measure in May. Nicola's Law opens up the state's current restrictive standards to make it easier to place someone with severe mental illness into treatment before they become a threat to themselves or others.

"Nicola's Law is a major step forward in Louisiana," said Treatment Advocacy Center Executive Director Kurt Entsminger. "It brings an outdated, ridged system in line with today's medical advances to make treatment available to people with severe mental illnesses. It is a model that works."

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Nicola's Law is modeled after Kendra's Law, a New York program in place since 1999. Of those in New York's program, 74 percent fewer experienced homelessness, 77 percent less psychiatric hospitalization, 83 percent fewer arrest, and 87 percent fewer imprisonment as a result of the measure.

Earlier this year, Idaho unanimously passed similar reform legislation. A comprehensive reform of Illinois mental health law took effect on June 1.

Nicola's Law was backed by Gov. Jindal and led through the legislature by Senator Cheryl Gray. The measure was proposed after the January 29 slaying of the 24-year old officer Cotton while she was attempting to arrest the suspect with paranoid schizophrenia who had been in and out of mental institutions his adult life. Cotton was overpowered by the suspect, twice her size, and shot with her own gun. The man was not in treatment or taking his medication at the time of the tragedy, according to his sister.

Nicola's Law provides a flexible standard for targeting care at those most at risk of harm because of untreated severe mental illnesses. It is anticipated that the new law will help about 170 people in Louisiana receive treatment each year. Treatment will help reduce hospital stays, homelessness, jail time, and substantially diminish the chances of violence.

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