Ariz. legal groups propose mental health database

PHOENIX (AP) — The State Bar of Arizona and state Criminal Justice Commission want a database to keep track of people who are under court-ordered mental health treatment.

The database known as the Mental-Health Registry is under construction and will be managed by the state Supreme Court, according to the Arizona Capitol Times (http://bit.ly/163zbyY).

It will tell police officers whether a person exhibiting possible signs of mental illness is undergoing treatment under the supervision of the court or deemed mentally incompetent by a court.

Proposed legislation also would close gaps in laws that prohibit certain people from possessing a firearm, such as those who are under indictment, under guardianship for mental incapacity or found to be mentally incompetent.

The state currently reports people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database used for checking the backgrounds of gun buyers.

However, only about 10 percent of them are reported because of an inadequate digital record-keeping system.

The state doesn’t report people who have been determined to be incompetent. Arizona also doesn’t report people under felony indictment, mostly because prosecutors aren’t set up to enter information into the various criminal databases from which NICS captures data.

The idea behind the legislation and the database is to improve the state’s reporting to NICS. The information in the Mental-Health Registry would be transmitted to the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime database and NICS.

“I really believe this is the start of a good solution,” said George Diaz, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Commission.

The legislation is in its preliminary stage and has to be approved by the commission, which meets Nov. 14.

Eddie Sissons, a consultant with Mental Health America of Arizona, said any legislation is going to include a provision for deleting a person whose condition has improved from the mental health database.

Sissons said there has to be a balance reached between public safety and unnecessarily stigmatizing people with mental illness.

James McDougall, a retired judge who specializes in mental health legal issues, is drafting separate legislation that would spell out how the courts use the database.

He said there has been plenty of discussion about Sissons’ concerns and establishing a way to get people out of the registry, either through a separate court proceeding or more automatically with a separate order that supersedes the order for treatment.

“Nobody wants this register to fill up with orders that don’t need to be enforced,” said McDougall, who sits on a State Bar panel concerned with mental health law and legal practice.

McDougall said the legislation he’s working on is also very preliminary and hasn’t been approved by the State Bar.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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