Bowden: Not enough space to house chronic mental health patients

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 4, 2015

Probate Judge Ben Bowden spoke to the Andalusia Police Department on Thursday about involuntary mental commitments.

Bowden said mental health commitments are a big part of his job as probate judge.

Ben Bowden

Ben Bowden

He said his job is to protect both the patient and the public’s welfare.

While trying to do this public service, Bowden said the job is more difficult because there is no where to put those with chronic mental health issues.

“We need a place,” Bowden said.

Bowden spoke about the legal process to force someone to get help.

“This does not include substance abuse, intellectual disorders, epilepsy, developmental disabilities,” he said. “We are not abandoning substance abuse, but there is no such thing as forced rehab.”

Bowden talked about the three steps for final commitments.

First, there is an emergency order.

Bowden said an emergency order can be no more than seven days and requires no hearing.

The person has to be a danger to himself or others and unwilling to get help.

If they need additional time because they don’t stabilize or they are acutely psychotic, then there must be a probable cause hearing after seven days.

The judge can order an additional 30 days or inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Additionally, the respondent must be present at the hearing and counsel must be appointed for the person.

If more treatment is needed, a final hearing will be used.

The person must be present with counsel and he or she can get ordered to 150 days of inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment.

Bowden said that the Montezuma Center is a state endorsed facility for this kind of treatment.

“It’s the same as Searcy was but just a step down,” he said.

Bowden said his office has no responsibilities for those declared criminally insane.

Additionally, Bowden said an involuntary commitment requires a petitioner and that a mental patient can’t be placed in jail solely for mental illness, he said.