By: Michelle Gonzalez, Member-Candidate, J.D. Candidate, May 2020, St. Thomas University School of Law.

In January of 1999, a thirty-two-year-old journalist, Kendra Webdale was pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train in Manhattan by a twenty-nine-year-old with a long history of mental illness, Andrew Goldstein. Kendra would probably still be alive if Andrew Goldstein had been taking his antipsychotic medications.  In light of these events, and other similar scenarios, Kendra’s Law was passed.  Kendra’s Law is a court order that establishes a treatment plan for individuals with severe mental illness.   There are now forty-six out of the fifty states that have implemented their own version of Kendra’s Law, also known as assisted outpatient treatment programs. 

Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) is a court-ordered treatment for individuals with severe mental illness. AOT is most often implemented when the individual has been diagnosed with a mental illness and a history of medication noncompliance.  For example, a schizophrenic individual stops taking her prescribed antipsychotic medications and forgets that she even needs to take them, leading to paranoia and hospitalizations. Several studies have been conducted and proved the effectiveness that AOT has in reducing hospitalizations, homelessness, arrests, incarcerations, violence, crime, victimization, and caregiver stress.4

There is controversy through the country on whether Kendra’s Law and those similar to it implementing AOT programs violate civil rights. According to civil rights advocates, states deprive individuals of their liberties with forced treatments like the AOT programs.  In reality, the AOT programs are helping individuals and their liberties by reducing their chances of being hospitalized and arrested for crimes committed because their mental illness was not controlled by their medications. The AOT programs are also helping other civilians in society and their liberties by preventing violence, crime, and victimization from occurring while living their daily lives.  The implementation of the AOT programs have probably saved many lives and will continue to do so. If something so simple as taking a medication can make the lives of individuals with mental illness and those around them better and safer, why should it not be legally required?