The Use of Law for Prevention in the Public Interest

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One of the most important functions of law and the legal system is to prevent harm by regulating conduct prospectively. Almost all law—whether in the form of a statute enacted by a legislative body or a judgment decreed by a court—is designed, at least in part, to avoid some socially undesirable future state of affairs. This chapter explores some of the more significant ways in which lawmaking (both legislative and judicial) may be regarded as a form of prevention and the legal system may be used for prevention in the public interest. Although the chapter focuses on litigation and legislation of particular interest to those in the fields of mental health and mental retardation, the legal processes and principles described extend to many other areas of law with implications for promoting health and preventing harm.

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Prevention in Human Services

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