The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi for failing to provide adults with mental illness appropriate access to healthcare, a violation of their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The DOJ found that the state lacks necessary outpatient services and needlessly institutionalizes adults and children , subjecting patients to trauma and denying them the ability live in community settings.
The head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, said, “Mississippi violates the ADA by denying residents with disabilities the services the law requires and the support they deserve, forcing them to cycle in and out of state hospitals, emergency rooms and jails. The Justice Department’s lawsuit demonstrates our firm commitment to vindicate the rights of people with mental illness.”
The DOJ found that on a randomly selected date more than 55 percent of the adults in Mississippi’s State Hospital short-term units had been previously admitted at least twice, while more than 11 percent had been admitted 10 times or more. The DOJ attributed this recidivism to the lack of community-based resources available to these patients. In addition, adults with mental health concerns were found to have spent days in emergency rooms or jail holding facilities that were unable to manage their needs before being transferred to state hospitals.
The DOJ first released its report on the failings of Mississippi’s mental healthcare system in 2011. In the intervening five years, the state has done nothing to improve the system or implement required reforms.
Mississippi has faced other outside challenges to its mental healthcare system as well. The Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates filed suit against Mississippi in 2010 for unnecessarily institutionalizing thousands of children with mental disabilities. Children were taken from their families because they lacked access to sufficient mental healthcare. The case is still ongoing.
“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,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Mental healthcare activists see the lawsuit as a force for long-overdue reform. “I am hopeful that this lawsuit will at last bring the kinds of services and support that people with mental illnesses need so they, just like the rest of us, can live in the community and be able to have productive and meaningful lives,” said Joy Hogge, executive director of the nonprofit Families as Allies.