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In-depth: Southern Poverty Law Center fights against state law they say negatively impacts children

36,000 children are committed a year under the Baker Act
Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 08:50:41-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of children involuntarily committed to mental hospitals under the Baker Act. One organization says it believes children of color and children with learning disabilities are more likely to be committed in Florida.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is digging deeper to find out why that is and what’s being done about it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to bring attention to a trend that’s been ticking upward during the past few years. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows people experiencing a mental health crisis to be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours. The concern is that it’s used against children too loosely.

“Florida is putting itself in harm's way through the massive overuse of involuntary psychiatric examination under the Baker Act,” Evian White De Leon, who’s an attorney.

Bacardi Jackson from the Southern Poverty Law Center said, “When they (children) are Baker Acted, they are handcuffed by police, taken in cop cars and deeply traumatized.”

Each year about 36,000 children are committed under the Baker Act. The Southern Poverty Law Center discovered that Black, Brown, and children with learning disabilities were more likely to be committed under the Baker Act.

Proponents of the law say it protects children who may be a danger to themselves or other people, but critics counter by saying police officers, who may have no experience in mental health, shouldn’t be arresting children. “We are, in fact, causing more trauma to our children that will be lifelong,” said Dr. Tommy Schechtman, who’s a pediatrician.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says they’re pushing for state legislatures to create a bill that would better address the needs of children in our schools, as opposed to institutionalizing them.