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What Are the Involuntary Treatment Laws in New Jersey?

Updated On: Mar 18, 2024
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Involuntary treatment laws in New Jersey
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    What you will learn
    • New Jersey has laws for involuntary treatment in inpatient and outpatient settings.
    • The governor recently extended the allowed time for involuntary treatment from 72 hours to 144 hours with a temporary court order.
    • Involuntary outpatient commitment is the least restrictive alternative to inpatient programs for people who may pose a danger in the foreseeable future but aren’t an imminent risk.

    People struggling with mental illnesses may sometimes have impaired judgment, loss of control, or tenuous perceptions of reality that may pose a risk to themselves or others. If they are unwilling to accept treatment of their own volition, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility may be necessary.

    In New Jersey, the laws for involuntary treatment have been expanded recently, allowing people suffering from mental illness to be held for treatment for up to 144 hours with a temporary court order.

    Expanded Involuntary Treatment Law in New Jersey

    The involuntary treatment law in New Jersey – Bill S3929 – was signed into law by Gov. Murphy on August 16, 2023, and revises the length of the involuntary hold for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and undergoing care.[1]

    Officially known as the Involuntary Outpatient Commitment Program (IOC), the law has been active since 2012, allowing providers to hold individuals for psychiatric care for up to 72 hours. Now, these individuals can be held for up to 144 hours with a temporary court order.

    The goal of the extended involuntary hold is to give providers more time to access proper care for people in the midst of a mental health crisis due to a shortage of psychiatric beds in the state.

    What Are the Criteria for Involuntary Commitment to an Inpatient Facility?

    The legal statute for involuntary holds in New Jersey is Title 30:4-27.[2] In order for an individual to be committed involuntarily, the following requirements are needed:

    • The person must be mentally ill
    • The mental illness must cause them to be a danger to themselves or others or property, as defined by Title 30:4-27.

    What Are the Steps to Involuntary Holds?

    Involuntary treatment in New Jersey

    Typically, involuntary holds occur when someone’s behavior escalates to the point that they may be a danger to themselves or others, and the police become involved.[3] The police then arrest the person and order a certified screening service to assess the need for a court order for an involuntary hold.

    The screening service evaluation can take place at one of many screening centers throughout the state. In addition to law enforcement, people may be brought to a screening center by family or emergency responders to have their mental health evaluated.

    They may be held at the facility for up to 24 hours for a determination. If they are deemed a danger to themselves or others, they may be referred to an inpatient psychiatric facility for involuntary admission, according to Title 30:4-27.

    Once admitted, the person may be held for up to 72 hours from the start of the screening referral. During this period, the facility must begin court proceedings for admission to a psychiatric facility and a temporary court order. If granted, the court must issue a temporary court order within 72 hours of the screening referral. The facility can’t hold an individual for more than 72 hours without a temporary court order.

    In some cases, a screening service may not be used. A person can be involuntarily held for treatment through an independent application, which must be supported by two clinical certificates, one of which must be prepared by a psychiatrist.

    If the application comes through after a person in voluntary treatment requests discharge from a facility, they can be detained for another 48 hours.

    What Are the Criteria and Processes for Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC)?

    When a person is a danger to themselves or others in the near future, but not necessarily posing an imminent danger to themselves or others, they can be evaluated for involuntary outpatient commitment (IOC).

    With IOC, someone can be involuntarily committed to inpatient care for 72 hours, then transferred to outpatient care and legally required to comply with the recommended outpatient treatment. This is considered the “least restrictive alternative.”

    Program attendance, court hearings, and adherence to treatment protocols are an IOC condition of release from an inpatient facility or prison, allowing them to reintegrate into the community. However, the court cannot force someone to take medication if they have the mental capacity to make that decision on their own.

    If someone fails to comply with their outpatient treatment, they can be reevaluated for involuntary inpatient hospitalization if the criteria are met. They may be discharged from the program if they reach 12 to 18 months without any involuntary hospitalizations.

    The criteria for IOC include:[4]

    • Adults over the age of 18,
    • Serious mental illness,
    • Conditions that make the person unlikely to adhere to treatment and live safely in the community without supervision,
    • A history of two or more involuntary hospitalizations, incarcerations, or dangerous behaviors due to mental illness,
    • Refusal of treatment or a low capacity to accept treatment voluntarily.

    Generally, IOC is intended for people who respond well to treatment in inpatient care but are not compliant once they are discharged. The goal is to help people suffering from chronic mental illnesses navigate the first year or year and a half post-charge with extra support to improve their treatment outcomes.

    The court will issue a temporary court order if there’s cause to believe the person needs involuntary inpatient treatment. This requires an initial commitment hearing within 20 days of the screening.

    Get Help for Yourself or a Loved One

    Though New Jersey has laws for involuntary treatment in both inpatient and outpatient programs to help people with chronic mental illnesses get the help they need, it requires strict criteria and conditions be met that may leave some without help or access.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, it’s important to voluntarily seek treatment instead of allowing the situation to escalate to involuntary commitment and navigating the stressful legal concerns. Attending peer support meetings before reaching a point of needing involuntary commitment can also be beneficial for individuals requiring mental health support.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How Does New Jersey Determine If Someone Needs Involuntary Treatment?
    What Is Considered “A Danger to Themselves or Others?“
    What is the Difference Between Involuntary and Voluntary Commitment?
    What Is the Purpose of Involuntary Commitment?

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