DOJ files Olmstead lawsuit against Mississippi

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The Department of Justice sued the state of Mississippi on August 11, accusing it of “unnecessarily and illegally” institutionalizing hundreds of people with mental illness daily in its state hospitals.

“When individuals with mental illness receive the services they need, they are better able to find meaningful work, secure stable housing, build personal relationships, and avoid involvement with the criminal justice system,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a news release. “For far too long, Mississippi has failed people with mental illness, violating their civil rights by confining them in isolating institutions.

“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.”

In 2011, the Department of Justice released the findings of an extensive investigation, alleging that the state systematically violated the ADA and the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision, which upheld the ADA’s mandate that states provide services so people with disabilities can live in the most integrated settings according to their needs and choices.

In the lawsuit, the DOJ asserts that the state continues to underfund community-based services, ranging from permanent housing options to psychiatric and crisis services. Furthermore, the DOJ found that there is “minimal coordination” between state hospitals and local providers, preventing these individuals from transitioning into more integrated settings.

As a result, thousands of people regularly cycle in and out of Mississippi’s four state hospitals.

Overall, the state spent $202.5 million on services at these institutions, compared to just $25 million in grants for community based services.

“By virtue of their institutionalization, these adults with disabilities are deprived of meaningful opportunities to choose friends, work or make choices about their day to day activities, such as what and when to eat, when to make a phone call, and where to go on a walk,” the lawsuit states. “These individuals experience the type of ‘unjustified isolation’ that the Supreme Court held is ‘properly regarded as discrimination based on disability.'”

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Read a related story here, Disability Rights Washington lawsuit challenges state’s lack of home and community-based services.