Prior to 1971, the laws in Florida regarding due process and civil rights of persons in mental health facilities – which dated back to 1874 – were in a sorry state of affairs. With signed affidavits by three laymen and the approval of a county judge, you could be committed to a mental health hospital. There was no specific period of commitment before a person’s confinement would be reconsidered by a judge. The standards were so lax that, reportedly, the crony of a local judge would periodically have his wife committed so he could carry on a dalliance with another woman.
All this ended in 1971 due to the work of Florida state representative Maxine Baker, who spearheaded the passage of the Florida Mental Health Act. Referring to the treatment of persons with mental illness before the passage of her bill, Representative Baker stated, “In the name of mental health, we deprive them of their most precious possession – liberty.” The Baker Act, as it would come to be known, prohibited the indiscriminate admission of persons to state institutions or the retention of persons without just cause. The law also prohibited the placement of persons with mental illnesses in jails, unless they had committed criminal acts.