By Erik de la Garza, Courthouse News Service
JACKSON, Miss. (CN) — The Justice Department sued Mississippi for violating the American with Disabilities Act (pdf) by forcing mentally ill people into state-run psychiatric hospitals instead of providing community-based services.
The department found that the state “unnecessarily and illegally” institutionalizes adults and children with disabilities, and fails to ensure that they have access to necessary services, according to the lawsuit (pdf) filed Thursday in Jackson Federal Court.
It also says the state has recognized these failures but has not yet implemented the required reforms to meet the needs of those with disabilities.
“For far too long, Mississippi has failed people with mental illness, violating their civil rights by confining them in isolating institutions,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement. “Our lawsuit seeks to end these injustices, and it sends a clear signal that we will continue to fight for the full rights and liberties of Americans with mental illness”
The state’s mental health system has been under investigation since a 2011 findings letter reported that gaps and weakness too often subjected mentally ill individuals to needless trauma, especially during a crisis.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said his office has been negotiating with the Justice Department for several years in an effort to avoid litigation, but refused to accept demands for a court-ordered consent decree “that would bind the state to perpetual federal oversight.”
“This lawsuit is a clarion call to all of us in state leadership to consider how we care for the least among us and how we can make it better,” Hood said. “This is a clear opportunity for our Legislature, mental health professionals, our faith-based community and all of us as Mississippians to come together to determine an effective way …