In 1971, people with mental illness were presumed by the law to be helpless and in need of protection. The state acted as a parent, a public policy dating back to the English law known as parens patriae, Latin for “parent of the nation.”
The state could hold mental patients for five months without giving them a hearing. A typical hearing lasted less than five minutes, and more than 90% of the cases ended with same the result: commitment.
People judged to be mentally ill could not vote, marry, drive a car or own property.