What to know about the Baker Act

The Apalachee Center on Capital Circle NE is the primary intake center for individuals who have been subjected to the Baker Act.
Landy Coulanges | The Famuan

Some young adults have to learn about the Baker Act the hard way. The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, known as the Baker Act, is a statue only for the state of Florida.

The legislation was nicknamed "Baker Act" after Maxine Baker, a Florida Democratic state representative from Miami. She served as chair of the House Committee on Mental health. The act allows the involuntary institutionalization and examination of an individual. Judges, law enforcement officials, physicians or mental health professionals usually initiate it. The person has to show possible mental illness, or the person is in danger of harming themself or others, or is self-neglectful.

According to the Department of Children and Families, the Baker Act encourages the voluntary admission of persons for psychiatric care, but only when they are able to understand the decision and its consequences and are able to fully exercise their rights for themselves. When this is not possible due to the severity of the person’s condition, the law requires that the person be extended their due process rights assured under the involuntary provisions of the Baker Act.

When the Baker Act criteria are met the person is then transferred to a local facility, usually by law enforcement, which starts the 72-hour process. There are many scenarios where individuals are submitted involuntarily or voluntarily.

Elijah Shanks said he was not aware of the Baker Act beforehand.

 “I was told I'd just need to go and talk to someone briefly and that I'd be free to go right after. I was wrongfully detained for what was initially supposed to be a simple evaluation, but I was later informed that it would be a 72-hour stint of evaluation and investigation. I would like to see the tactics used to get people help be changed. I feel I was put in the Baker Act under a false sense of security that I’d be looked at and then released not held against my will once I got there,” said Shanks.

The Baker Act has saved lives because many people deal with mental disabilities or deal with depression. Julius Lowe, a student at FAMU, said he knew all about the Baker Act. He’s seen so many people suffer from psychological breakdowns and he kept telling himself it would never happen to him. But eventually his fragile mental state caught up with him.

“It was hard, but it was what I needed. I was in a dark place because of depression, and I had become a serious problem for myself and I needed help in the worst way,” Lowe said. “Just being under constant watch where I could have someone to keep me from making a dumb mistake that I would have regretted forever, it helped me more than I could have ever known.

“If the Baker Act wasn't around back then, I wouldn't be here right now. It was effective because it got me stabilized and got the suicidal thoughts to stop, but I still had a long way to go with my battle with depression,” Lowe said.

There are many occasions when an individual is Baker Acted and checked into a facility because he or she overdosed on a drug. The person may experience temporary side effects or permanent mental damage. The individual is then examined, supervised and is not released until the doctor’s approval. Francois Louis works at Apalachee Center, which is the central receiving facility in North Florida.

“Due to (federal law) HIPPA I can’t make references to any case but my message to students is to stop doing street drugs. Beware of your environment, do not go back to a drink you left at the bar. Do not do synthetic marijuana. One of the saddest things to see is the lack of family involvement from the client’s family,” he said. “It is difficult to deal with. Simply because they may not be used to dealing with family members experiencing a mental health crisis.”

He added that there are many different types of Baker Acts; BA40 is voluntarily placement, BA52 is involuntarily which is mostly done by cops of a licensed medical personal. BA32 is done when a BA40 runs out and the mental health doctor does not believe the person should be released and they file a BA32 to keep them at the facility.

For more information visit www.dcf.state.fl.us, or call the Apalachee Center INC at 850-523-3333.