Legal Aid Society of Puerto Rico unveils program for mental health proceedings
The Legal Aid Society of Puerto Rico, acknowledging the increasing number of people being mandated by the courts to undergo mental health treatment or subjected to involuntary commitment, has launched the Legal Assistance in Mental Health Proceedings Program.
The program is part of a proposal under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and is the first legal assistance program under the Mental Health Act (Act 408-2000) with support staff covering all Puerto Rico, the entity said.
The goal is “to serve and offer access to the mental health population to integrated legal services with the participation of specialized professionals,” the organization stated.
The program not only provides legal representation to protect the rights of the participants and offer case follow-up but also has an educational component to guide and seek solutions to their needs.
Through the initiative, the Legal Aid Society of Puerto Rico addresses a need on the island, as services will be provided in nine of its 13 regional offices.
They will be divided as follows: Aibonito, Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina, San Juan, and the remaining four offices will be in Arecibo (also serving the Utuado region), Fajardo (also serving the Humacao region), Mayagüez (also serving the Aguadilla region) and Ponce (also serving the Guayama region). Each of the new program offices will staff an attorney, a social worker and an administrative assistant.
More than 5,000 cases are filed under Act 408 annually in Puerto Rico, the organization noted.
In the fiscal year 2021, there were more than 5,700 cases and over 7,100 court hearings in which the Legal Aid Society of Puerto Rico represented participants in mental health proceedings. These figures have been rising in the last two years, the group stated.
“This program opens a space to provide legal representation to vulnerable people subjected to involuntary commitment or compulsory treatment,” said Félix Vélez-Alejandro, the Legal Aid Society of Puerto Rico’s executive director.
“It ensures that these processes comply with due process and the best welfare of the participant,” he added.