JACKSON—Mississippi's top disability-rights advocacy group praised a federal judge's ruling earlier this week that found the State violates the civil rights of those with mental illness. One leading mental health advocate, though, pushed back on Attorney General Jim Hood's emphasis on money, rather than a well-funded systemic overhaul, as the primary way to repair the system.
"We have awaited Judge Reeves' decision, and we're very pleased that he understands that our State (government) needs guidance, and our State needs oversight in fixing Mississippi's mental-health system," Disability Rights Mississippi Executive Director Polly Tribble said at a press conference in Jackson. "Clearly, Judge Reeves understands that our state is hospital-centered and that we have major gaps in community care for people with mental-health needs."
U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi Carlton W. Reeves ruled Wednesday that the State must make sweeping changes to its mental-health system so that people with severe mental illness have access to treatment in their own communities rather than going through unnecessary institutionalization in State-run hospitals. The ruling followed a month-long trial over the summer, after the U.S. Department of Justice brought a lawsuit charging that Mississippi violates the civil rights of those with disabilities.
In his ruling, which found that the State is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act or a key 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Reeves ordered the appointment of a special master to oversee the process for deciding how the State will move forward to make necessary changes to its mental-health system.
"Thousands of Mississippians cycle through State institutions annually because they don't get what they need at home and in their community. And this is not a political vow. Individuals who depend on our State's mental health system should not be pawns in the political arena, or in current or