Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC) is more commonly referred to as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). We do not use that term because it essentially operates as a marketing term for IOC, suggesting that its just a helpful bit of “assistance” rather than the forceful, sometimes harmful interventions it generally represents.
At present, 47 states in the nation have some form of IOC on their books. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland are the last ones without it. However, the fight wages on between those who want to keep it out of the Commonwealth, and those eager to see these last three states lose their battle to keep it out. This is a particularly tricky fight to navigate, because those people most prone to stand up for people’s rights and push back on systemic oppression are often lulled into thinking that this particular form of oppression is actually needed and the “right thing to do” to help people who are struggling. Add to that the fact that we just lost Secretary Marylou Sudders (the head of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in Massachusetts who was vocal on her opposition to force of this nature), and we’re in pretty vulnerable place right now.
In February, we learned that Deborah Becker, senior correspondent and host at WBUR (Boston’s National Public Radio station) was working on a story on IOC. Known for her fairness and solid reporting, there was hope that the story would give real voice to the reasons why many people oppose IOC.
That did not happen. Why – whether someone else stepped in and required the piece to be altered – is unclear.
Although Deborah took the time to interview Wildflower Alliance Director, Sera Davidow, and Advocate, Thomas Brown, and quoted both of them in her final piece – Mass. lawmakers to wade into fierce debate over court-mandated mental health care – the heaviest weight by far was given to people fighting to bring IOC into this state. Ultimately, the piece stands to do real harm to our ability to get heard.
Any good advocate knows that—in most situations of this nature—personal stories win the day. There was hope that stories could at least be represented from both sides, and Deborah Becker did put effort into finding someone who’s been subjected to IOC, and wants to speak to how it didn’t work or harmed them. But, how do you find someone who’s experienced IOC who lives in a state that doesn’t have IOC? In short, you don’t.
Wildflower Alliance attempted to find someone who was at least living in the Commonwealth now, and who has experienced IOC elsewhere before moving here. While we couldn’t find someone currently living in-state, we did have multiple people who spoke up from other areas who had related experience, and were willing to speak on record about it. Unfortunately, WBUR editors decided that those people were too “removed.” End result? No story was offered against IOC.
Worse, the piece both opened and closed with a story of a woman whose brother —Brad Cappucci— was struggling and died, the implication being that if IOC had been in place, he might still be alive. Yet, that’s a big leap for a number of reasons including:
1. Even if Brad had been in Massachusetts when IOC was implemented, it appears unlikely that he would have qualified. One of the reasons why people end up on IOC is due to a cycle of frequent hospitalizations. That was not the situation here. In the story shared at the opening of this article details the life of a man who was reportedly behaving erratically, but was not deemed to meet the criteria for commitment.
2. Even if Brad had been on an IOC order, there’s no real evidence that it would have helped. The story included is not one of a man doing well when engaged in treatment, and then falling apart when he stops. He had never really engaged in treatment, and so there’s just no way of knowing how it might have helped or not.
3. When Brad died, he was in a state that had IOC: After Brad’s family repeatedly tried to have him committed and otherwise support him to get help, he decided to leave the area and go West to look for work. Although it’s unclear how long he was gone, the article says he communicated with his family “sporadically” suggesting it was for a substantial period of time. He was 33 when he died at the end of 2021, found near Yellowstone park. Both Montana and Wyoming have Involuntary Outpatient Commitment available.
What happened to Brad was awful, and has inevitably left his family with an irreparable loss. But it’s not a story about the impact of lack of IOC. It’s just not. Yet, the average reader won’t look that deep. They’ll simply see a sister grieving the painful loss of her brother, and suggesting that maybe IOC could have helped prevent tragedy. The public doesn’t want to look deep. They just want to believe that there’s a clear and straight forward action that can be taken to stop something bad from happening. They want easy answers. The answers don’t need to be true.
Even worse, the article also includes the story of Kamari Hope who voluntarily chose to participate in an outpatient treatment program. The program bears some similarities to IOC, particularly because it is implemented through the courts. Kamari said the program helped him. But again, it was voluntary, and a far cry from IOC. It misses several points including that the act of force (taking someone’s power away) can compound trauma they’ve already experienced and worsen outcomes, as well as the fact that many treatments that IOC force have questionable and highly inconsistent rates of efficacy whether forced or not.
Whatever the reason that this article was published with such a skewed, pro-IOC view, we need to know that the fight to maintain our rights is going to be especially hard this year. We also need to look for every possible opportunity to get our voices heard, and we need to find ways to hold the media accountable for misleading the public in ways that could lead to loss of liberty and serious harms for a whole community of people.
For more information on IOC:
- 2021 Article on IOC from Wildflower Alliance: tinyurl.com/WAIOC