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Civil Commitment for Drug Dependency: The Judicial Response

NCJ Number
Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review Volume: 26 Issue: 1 Dated: (November 1992) Pages: 39-104
Date Published
66 pages

Because of the wide availability and recent calls for increased use of involuntary civil commitment for drug dependent persons (DDC), it is important to examine the legal rulings regarding its use.


Although courts have recognized legislative mandates to treat drug dependent persons through involuntary civil commitment, the courts are also aware of the potential infringement of protected liberties involved in such an action. The courts have vacillated between espousing an approach that safeguards a person asserted to be drug dependent from an inappropriate or unneeded imposition of civil commitment and supporting an informal, streamlined system that quickly and effectively assists the drug dependent person. The balancing of these two interests is apparently further complicated by a recurring perception or concern that the treatment provided may be insufficient or ineffective. Some judges apparently view the difficulties of treatment as a rationale for emphasizing the custodial aspects of DDC and their responsibility to protect the drug dependent person and society from the dangers associated with drug dependency. In turn, these difficulties also are the basis for focusing on removing the individual from society, with treatment being a secondary or irrelevant element. Other judges conclude that the difficulties in treating drug dependency justify affording treatment providers with considerable discretion, flexibility, and authority in their attempts to treat individuals as part of DDC. A final group of judges argues that treatment difficulties limit the effectiveness and rationale for DDC in general, and thus form the basis for heightened procedural and substantive protections to limit its use or for requiring treatment providers to explore a wide range of treatment alternatives. As a result of this range of judicial views, the judicial response to DDC can be expected to remain uncertain and to continue to evolve. 456 notes

Date Published: January 1, 1992