Disability Pride Month: Do You Know About 302’s?

A 302 in Pennsylvania is shorthand for an involuntary civil commitment. 302 is the section of the Pennsylvania code under Mental Health Law. This is a disability pride issue.

Via SubArt

Last year, LGBTQ activist and writer, Susan “Sue” Kerr suffered an inexcusable violation of her civil rights when multiple officials deliberately disregarded established ‘sprocesses meant to protect those who are involuntarily committed under false pretenses in order to be removed from their homes or otherwise deprived of their property. As a result of these officials’ failures, Ms. Kerr was locked out of her home of over 18 years and was not able to return for 196 days. Earlier this week, my firm and I filed a federal lawsuit on Ms. Kerr’s behalf alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This lawsuit is meant to seek justice for the violation of Ms. Kerr’s rights, but, also, in the hope of preventing others from suffering the same fate due to the failures of officials entrusted with upholding the law.

Massimo A. Terzigni

I am proud this month to be resisting government oppression, specifically of those of us with mental health disabilities.

Local government officials disregarded my civil rights, denying me fair treatment and causing over six months of harm. My status as a person totally and permanently disability was used against me.

How many people in Allegheny County who are involuntarily committed claim their warrant was invalid?

How many of them do we believe?

Now that it has happened to me, a person you trust – and I can prove it – maybe we need to reconsider what those folx are saying. I am able to work with a lawyer to address this situation. Not everyone can do that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen. Disability does not mean don’t believe.

My first piece of advice to neighbors who have been involuntarily committed or 302d is to get a copy of the petition and warrant.

It is part of your health information so you are entitled to an un-redacted copy of both documents. This should be true in every Pennsylvania county. The state should do a better job lifting up anyone with a disability.

In Allegheny County, this is where you reach out to obtain the documents. You should call to confirm they have it. Then go Downtown to the DHS building. You need to bring photo ID. If you don’t have ID, mention that during the phone call.

Allegheny County Information Referral and Emergency Services (IRES)

Calls Answered 24/7: 412-350-4456

My advice is to read it carefully if it is safe for you. Ask someone to review it with you, perhaps a therapist or someone in your support system.

If it is not safe for you to read it, consider putting the envelope somewhere safe to read at a later date.

You may not know what to look for, that’s okay. Start by making sure each section has been completed. Compare the narrative to the other parts of the petition. Check for signatures, dates, etc. This is where a set of fresh eyes can be helpful.

If you can access your clinical notes, compare the documentation of your 302 evaluation with the petition and warrant.

Then what? If you find a discrepancy or error, talk it over with your mental health team.

The process used to complete this document restricting your civil rights is one element.

The content is another element.

The motives of the petitioner is something else.

Something else I learned this past year is how few therapists and mental health professionals are familiar with the 302 paperwork or process. As a lesbian and a social worker, I know a lot of therapists, counselors, and so forth. When I saw “how few” I literally mean no one that I asked or had asked by mutuals knew anything. None of them.

So I’d encourage mental health professionals to contact their county or the Resolve Crisis Line. Ask how to get yourself educated, perhaps organize a training for your practice. Read over a blank form. This is really important information for you to have to support your client. I’m not talking about you filing a 302 petition – I think experienced crisis staff are best suited for that. But after a 302 or when facing the threat of a 302, therapists should be able to support their clients.

I wish I had more information to share, but it really isn’t readily available. I would think every university training mental health professionals would make sure they are well versed in this component of the system. Rescinding someone’s right to liberty should be a big deal. It is the worst example of a disability being abused.

Knowledge is power. Power fuels pride.

I picked this Green Day song about mental illness, written by Billie Joe Armstsrong about his struggles with anxiety and addiction. He admitted himself to a treatment facility soon after writing it. We need more people with mental health disabilities to speak out about their experiences. We need to listen to the average Joe as well as Billie Joe.


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