Statutes governing the treatment of mental illness in Florida dates back to 1874. Prior to the passage of the Baker Act in 1971, there were just four large state civil hospitals; very little community-based care existed.
Persons in need of treatment of mental illnesses were found incompetent by the courts and their civil rights were removed. They would then wait for long periods prior to being sent to a state hospital, often waiting at home or in jail. Once transferred to a state hospital, there was little active treatment due to over-crowding, lack of sufficient number of staff, and mainly due to the fact that psychotropic medications had not yet been developed. Persons would generally stay for long lengths of time without any reconsideration of their stay; often remaining in the hospital for the rest of their lives. If they were released, their civil rights were rarely restored, leaving persons without any ability to marry, vote, contract, or other rights we take for granted.
The Florida Mental Health Act, usually referred to as the “Baker Act,” was named after Maxine Baker, former State representative from Miami who sponsored the Act, after serving as chairperson of the House Committee on Mental Health. Referring to the treatment of persons with mental illness before the passage of her bill, Representative Baker stated “In the name of mental health, we deprive them of their most precious possession – liberty.”
Since the Baker Act became effective in 1972, a number of legislative amendments have been enacted to protect persons’ civil and due process influenced the way in which persons with serious mental illnesses have been addressed, including a national movement toward de-institutionalization, the Americans with Disabilities federal law, a change in attitude toward recovery instead of just chronic care, and continued improvement in the effectiveness of various psychotherapeutic medications.
The Baker Act remains the law that lays out the Florida Legislature’s public policy balancing liberty with safety.
The Florida Mental Health Act, better known as the Baker Act, creates a system of rights for persons with mental illnesses as well as their due process rights when held in mental health facilities.
Sometimes the term, “Baker Act” is used as a noun, a verb or an adjective.
It is all of these.
||It’s used as a noun to describe a bill of rights for persons with mental illnesses.
||It’s used as a verb to be “Baker Acted” describes the involuntary examination process although the Baker Act covers voluntary admission as well.
||It’s used as an adjective, describing the eligibility for admission or for state funding at a public receiving facility.