Objective: To determine the extent of use of outpatient commitment, a survey was undertaken of each state and the District of Columbia.
Methods: One of the authors, an attorney, reviewed pertinent state statutes, then conducted telephone interviews with individuals in each state who were knowledgeable about the use of outpatient commitment.
Results: Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have laws permitting outpatient commitment. Georgia, Hawaii, and North Carolina use different criteria for outpatient commitment than for inpatient commitment. In only 12 states and the District of Columbia was use of outpatient commitment rated as very common or common. Reasons for not using it include concerns about civil liberties, liability, and fiscal burden as well as lack of information and interest, the failure of some states to set enforceable consequences for noncompliance, and criteria that are too restrictive. Some states use alternative formal or informal mechanisms to encourage treatment compliance; conditional release is widely used in New Hampshire and conservatorship-guardianship in California. Within many states the availability of outpatient commitment varies considerably by locale.
Conclusions: To clarify the role of outpatient commitment in psychiatric services, more research is needed to identify optimal candidates for its use. Research is also needed on its overall effectiveness compared with conditional release and conservatorship-guardianship and on the consequences of not using such mechanisms to improve treatment compliance.