The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has taken a case raising the question of whether people subject to civil commitment hearings are entitled to have those hearings held in a courtroom rather than at a hospital.
Commitment hearings are hard no matter where they're held. However, location may be a very important part of ensuring the goal that the perspectives of people hospitalized against their will are fully heard and represented.
Visual cues (such as seeing someone already in the hospital) can be powerful, and have the potential to get in the way. Many people feel that holding commitment hearings in a hospital leads to the proceedings being taken less seriously and creates immediate bias in favor of the hospital and toward keeping someone incarcerated against their will.
The Court has asked for input from people across the state. Hospitals are already weighing in heavily and claiming that it is not only a hardship for the hospital to have to transport someone to the court for a hearing, but are also claiming that it's better for those hospitalized to keep the hearing within the hospital's walls.
The Western Mass Recovery Learning Community is partnering with Massachusetts Attorney Susan Stefan and others to try and gather feedback directly from individuals who have been subjected to commitment hearings themselves. One potential outcome - depending on feedback received - is to argue that courts should be the expected location for all commitment hearings unless the person hospitalized asks for an accommodation to hold the hearing in the hospital.
Let's not allow hospitals to speak for us!
If you are someone who has been subjected to a commitment hearing in Massachusetts, please complete the brief survey below to let us know your thoughts.