In this article, we discuss changing trends of mental health legislation in the United States using a case study of the process of reforming the civil commitment law in New Jersey. That state’s new commitment law, commonly called the “screening law,” was enacted after a thirteen-year legislative process. Changes in the orientation of the proposed legislation and the dynamics of the process of reforming the commitment law in the state exemplify changing national trends in civil commitment legislation. We consider how the proposed legislation shifted in emphasis from a strong civil libertarian orientation to a social service approach. We assess the role of various interest groups, their negotiations, and the compromises that emerged. Our analysis of the process shows that changes in the social and political environment were the decisive factors that stimulated the process of reforming the civil commitment laws. Many of these changes occurred outside the mental health system and could be neither anticipated nor controlled by the various parties. Our examination of the process and the final outcome of this legislation reveals how organizations and interest groups, in their efforts to adapt to changing conditions, shaped the legislative outcome according to their interests.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.