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Less Restrictive Alternatives in Civil Commitment Cases

Generally in civil commitment proceedings in Washington, less restrictive alternative (LRA) treatment orders are favored. A person under an LRA order is required by the court to comply with certain treatment terms and conditions, but they mostly retain their freedom of movement.  Thus, an LRA is less restrictive than detention. For example, a person subject to an LRA court order might be allowed to live at home and work at his job, but be required to take his medication every day and see a counselor once a week.

In contrast, a person detained under Washington's Involuntary Treatment Act does not have freedom of movement.  The person is confined, typically in a locked facility like a state hospital or a secure psychiatric wing of a general hospital. The law provides individuals facing civil commitment significant legal rights and procedural protections because detention under an ITA order is a very serious matter.  If a person tries to leave the facility, they will find the door locked.  If they manage to escape, the police will be called to apprehend them. It is fundamentally the same condition as being jailed for committing a crime.

But there is an important difference between ITA detentions and imprisonment.  The latter is for the purpose of punishment, and the former is for the purpose of treatment. Thus, in cases where treatment aims can be completed without confinement, there is no justification for denying a person their fundamental liberty interest in freedom of movement.  That is why, in civil commitment proceedings in Washington, LRAs are favored over detention.

Typically, a person subject to an LRA order must:

  • Take all medications as prescribed, including antipsychotic medications.
  • Keep all therapy appointments.
  • Use no alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • Refrain from harming or threatening to harm themselves or others.

When a person violates one or more terms of his LRA, the LRA may be revoked and he may be returned to a secure facility and detained for the balance of the LRA.  The person will have a right to a court hearing and the chance to assert to a judge that he in fact did not violate his LRA.

Walla Walla attorney Jeff Burkhart has extensive experience in the issuance and revocation of LRAs. If you, or a family member, need assistance with a civil commitment LRA order, contact Jeff Burkhart today.



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