From Coercion to Contract: Reframing the Debate on Mandated Community Treatment for People with Mental Disorders
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Approximately half the people receiving treatment in the public sector for mental disorder have experienced some form of "leverage" in which deprivations such as jail or hospitalization have been avoided, or rewards such as money or housing have been obtained, contingent on treatment adherence. We argue in this Essay that framing the legal debate on mandated community treatment primarily in terms of "coercion" has become counterproductive and that the debate should be re-framed in terms of "contract." Language derived from the law of contract often yields a more accurate account of the current state of the law governing mandated community treatment, is more likely to be translated into a useful descriptive vocabulary for empirical research, and is more likely to clarify the policy issues at stake than the currently stalemated form of argumentation based on putative rights. Our hope is that adopting the language of contract may help to identify those types and features of mandated community treatment that are genuinely problematic, rather than perpetuating the unhelpful and misleading assumption that all types of leverage amount to "coercion."