Mental Health Commitments

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Court Intervention Services

At times, an adult may need court intervention in order to receive needed services.  This occurs most often when the adult with the disability does not see the need for treatment, while family and friends are concerned. Wisconsin State Law provides for civil commitment of a person.  This procedure allows a court to order that the person with the disability take medications, attend counseling, or even enter a psychiatric inpatient center. 

The required criteria to determine the need for commitment is that a person must be:

  • Mentally ill or developmentally disabled,
  • “A proper subject for treatment”, and
  • Dangerous to themselves or others.

Dangerous to themselves includes self neglect (not providing themselves with proper shelter, medical care, nourishment, etc), or impaired judgment. This may also include evidence of recent threats or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm. 

A “proper subject for treatment” means that the person can be proven to be treatable—that the symptoms could be improved or controlled. 

Civil commitments can be started in three ways:

  • By a law enforcement officer,
  • Three adults, at least one of which has first knowledge of the person to be committed,
  • Or by a medical professional in a psychiatric hospital where the person is already receiving voluntary treatment. 

Three-Party Commitment Petition

If a person is willing to seek help on a voluntary basis, there is no need to pursue a Three-Party Petition.  You may contact Information & Assistance at 638-6741 to inquire about treatment options or, if the person seeking services is insured, call the phone number on the back of their insurance card for treatment referrals. 

Since Wisconsin is a least restrictive state, the law governing our mental health system (Chapter 51) emphasizes protecting individual rights and liberties.  The laws favor voluntary over involuntary treatment.  However, there are three ways in which to force involuntary treatment in the State of Wisconsin:

  • Emergency Detention
  • Director’s Petition (also known as Director’s Hold)
  • Three-Party Petition

Emergency Detentions - (51.15, WI STATS)

These are initiated when an individual is presently a danger to themselves or others.  The detention is obtained by contacting law enforcement.  

Director’s Petitions (or “Director’s Hold”) - (51.10(5)(c) and 51.15 (10), WI STATS)

These are used only by psychiatrists when a person who has been seeking services voluntarily and then decides that they want to leave the psychiatric unit and the psychiatrist does not believe that is appropriate for the person.  The psychiatrist must be able to state that the person will be dangerous (to self and/or others) if allowed to leave the hospital.

Three-Party Petitions - (51.20 (1), WI STATS)

These actions occur if there are recent dangerous conducts/behaviors present AND one or more of the following disabilities exists:  mental illness, drug dependency and/or developmental disabilities.

To substantiate mental illness, drug dependency or developmental disability, you will need to provide information on the current physician, diagnoses, medications and dates of last treatment.  The person also must be a proper subject for treatment.

Dangerous conduct/behavior is defined as specific acts, attempts or threats which constitute a substantial risk of physical harm to self and/or others, according to the following standards:

  1. Danger to oneself (for ex., suicidal thoughts/actions)
  2. Danger to others (for ex., homicidal thoughts/actions)
  3. Impaired judgment in that the person is not able to make decisions that are appropriate and potentially dangerous (for ex., believing that they possess super powers and that they can fly if they jump off a building)
  4. Behavior indicating the person can’t take care of themselves or meet their own basic needs(for ex., person refuses to eat or does not dress appropriately for the weather conditions) so that substantial probability exists that death, serious physical injury, debilitation or disease will imminently ensue unless the person receives prompt adequate treatment.
  5. Fifth Standard – This standard is different from the other involuntary civil commitment statutes because it requires a finding that the person suffering from a mental illness is in need of treatment AND there must be a finding that the person is incompetent to refuse medication.  This is why the Fifth Standard is also referred to as the “need for treatment” alternative to the other four standards.  The Fifth Standard also does not require the finding of dangerousness to be immediate or overt, as it is with the first four standards.

Three-Party Petitions for Alcoholism also have a different standard.  A petition may be filed if the person’s dependence on alcohol substantially impairs or endangers the person’s health AND their social or economic functioning is substantially disrupted.  Please remember that simply being an alcoholic is not automatic grounds for a petition.  There are many people who are alcoholics and still able to function well enough in their lives.  In this context, substantially means a severe degree of impairment, endangerment or disruption.

This process may take time.  Depending upon several factors and the evidence presented, some petitions could take weeks to bring to court.  During this period of time, an emergency detention can be started, if necessary.  If the emergency detention process is started, the three-party petition will be put “on hold.” 

If you believe that you have the necessary information to meet the standards for a three-party petition (as outlined above), you may contact the Information & Assistance unit of the Racine County Human Services Department at 262-638-6741 to start the referral process.  Please understand that, in addition to meeting the standards, the following criteria must all be met: 

  • There are three (3) people, including yourself, with at least one person with first-hand knowledge of the person’s situation
  • All three persons are willing to sign a petition
  • All three persons are willing to testify in court

Please visit the Mental Health Services section of the Human Services Department webpage for more information.