The evolution of outpatient commitment in the USA: from conundrum to quagmire

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



Document Type


Medical Subject Headings

Community Mental Health Services; Female; Humans; Male; Mandatory Programs; *Mental Disorders; New York; Outpatients; Patient Acceptance of Health Care; Patient Compliance


Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


Outpatient commitment (OPC), a major form of involuntary community-based treatment, has evolved in the United States on a state-by-state basis amidst a storm of controversy. The polarizing debate that has gone on intensely about OPC for the last two decades has all too often been devoid of data. This article reviews the various arguments pro and con about OPC, and then examines the research on the effectiveness of OPC. Since the newest data seem to support OPC as a useful tool in dealing with specific subpopulations of persons with chronic mental illness, the paper examines the question of whether OPC is a legitimate use of government power. The most extensive analysis of this question to date has occurred in the New York State Courts which have supported the New York State OPC statute, Kendra's Law. The paper concludes with an examination of the future of OPC in the states, calling in particular for further research into the question of determining to whom, from a clinical point of view, should OPC be delivered.

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Citation: Int J Law Psychiatry. 2006 May-Jun;29(3):234-48. Epub 2006 Apr 5. Link to article on publisher's site

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