Civil Liberties

What a More Liberal Approach to Involuntary Commitment Looks Like


Yesterday, Jacob Sullum posted a response to the pundits and politicians who say the Tucson murders make a strong case for involuntarily committing people who are "detached from reality" to mental institutions for treatment. Here's what a society more inclined to commit offbeat people to mental institutions might look like in practice:

Chinemerem Eze, a Nigerian national attending Brooklyn College, believed that her landlord had hidden a camera in her apartment. When she asked school officials for help, they shipped her off to a psychiatric ward. Then she found the camera.

Eze is suing Brooklyn College for false imprisonment, among other things, over a 2008 episode in which she approached school administrators for help in dealing with issues she was having with her roommates and landlord at her Brooklyn apartment. According to the complaint, Eze believed that she was being "defamed on the internet" by her former roommates and that "her landlord at the time had installed a hidden camera in her bedroom." Sounds nuts!

That's what school psychologist Sally Robles thought. When Eze went to Brooklyn College's Office of Campus and Community Safety Services to ask for help, security officers called Robles, who proceeded to ask Eze about her mental health history and whether she ever heard voices. When Eze protested that she was simply an international student asking the school's security staff for help on dealing with a housing issue, Robles called an ambulance.

Eze was "forced" into the ambulance by school officials, and ended up being committed to Kings County Psychiatric Hospital for two weeks, where in addition to being made "physically and emotionally ill and subject to great humiliation," she missed her final exams and was "terminated" by the school.

See also the stories of David Pyles and Adrian Schoolcraft.

Related: Apparently, our post-Tucson attention to political rhetoric now means that bloggers who criticize politicians get visits from the FBI.

NEXT: Reason Writers on TV: Matt Welch Says Nice Things About Obama's Speech on Russia Today's The Alyona Show

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The system worked!

  2. The people who committed this woman need to be committed. What kind of a person does that?

    1. How was she committed for two weeks when dangerous psychotics are released after 3 days?

    2. How was she committed for two weeks when dangerous psychotics are released after 3 days?

  3. Arnott said U.S. Capitol police canvassed members of Congress to come up with a list of people across the country who might be considered potential threats to members of Congress. It’s up to local law enforcement to protect members of Congress when they return to their home districts.

    Having the armed agents of the state harass your political enemies because you say “might be considered potential threats” would be a pretty cool power to have.

    There is no way this could ever be abused.

    1. If even one of our public servants is saved, it will be worth the slight bending of so-called individual liberty.

      1. Absolutely! Americans have been too rights-obsessed for far too long.

        1. That’s hyperindividualistic to you chief.

    2. There is no way this could ever be abused.

      That is correct. The privilege is restricted to Members of Congress.

  4. Sounds like Ms. Eze has a laydown case against everybody involved in this, including especially whatever idiot certified that she is an imminent threat.

    Unless, of course, NY is the only state in the union that doesn’t have the “imminent threat to self or others” standard for involuntary commitment.

    1. How did they not talk to a lawyer? Or if they did, how does he still a member of the bar. It is beyond me how this could happen.

      1. I can’t speak for NY, but generally speaking someone who is involuntarily committed doesn’t get representation until AFTER they’re committed. The apparent due process violation by not having such representation is addressed by only allowing for involuntary commitment if one poses an imminent threat of harm to oneself or others. Once the person has been committed, he or she THEN has a due process right to challenge the commitment.

        1. Actually, my bad… You still have a due process right to a hearing before being involuntarily committed. I was thinking of a situation where the police/doctor/state worker convinces you to voluntarily commit yourself (often by threatening involuntary commitment) and then, when you want to leave, proceeds with seeking involuntary commitment (a common tactic that, in effect, creates the scenario I described above where you don’t get to challenge the commitment until after you’ve already been committed).

    2. Really? Let’s look at some facts. She’s a dark skinned foreigner, here on a student visa, who just flunked out of college who’s suing a government entity.

      I assume her deportation proceedings have already commenced, the government asserting she can effectively press her claims from Nigeria.

      1. I’m aware the third sentence above is grammar butchery.

    3. Maybe. But there’s no proof that she actually found the camera-you have to take her at her word, since she apparently didn’t keep it and never filed charges against her landlord.

      That is, she might actually be crazy.

  5. Wasn’t involuntary commitment to the loony-bin used by the Soviet government against political dissenters in the post-Stalin era?

    1. The people of the USSR took great pride in the humanitarian treatment of sluggish schizophrenics. Unlike bourgeios psychiatrists who merely assuaged the guilt of wealthy capitalists for hire, the Soviet profession of psychiatry actually cared for the people. Soviet psychiatrists acted only for the good of the People when they committed psychotic individuals to asylums for mental health care. Anyone who doubted the sincerity and goodness of the Communist Party and the glorious success of Soviet Socialism was obviously insane and needed treatment.

      1. Wow, the PPACA is some good reading!

    2. Can you hang on a moment, Champ? Let me get my pen because Barock is gonna want to know about this.

  6. You know who else compared involuntary commitment policies to the Soviet government’s treatment of political dissenters?

    1. Thomas Szasz? No, Hitler!

  7. Bowler isn’t the only local person under federal investigation. Arnott confirmed to KSPR News that Bowler isn’t the only local person who’s been scrutinized in the wake of last weekend’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ) during a meet-and-greet with constituents in Tucson, Ariz.

    “Major Strasser has been shot…
    Round up the usual suspects.”

  8. I count at least 20 lives saved or created.

  9. She should have used this defense.

    “My husband,” she said, “saw a unicorn this morning.” The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police. “He told me it ate a lilly,” she said. The psychiatrist looked at the police and the police looked at the psychiatrist. “He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead,” she said. At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her. Just as they got her into the strait-jacket, the husband came back into the house.

    “Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn?” asked the police. “Of course not,” said the husband. “The unicorn is a mythical beast.” “That’s all I wanted to know,” said the psychiatrist. “Take her away. I’m sorry, sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jaybird.”

    So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.