The U.S. Justice Department is ordering the Mississippi mental health system to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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The U.S. Dept. of Justice Cracks Down on Miss. Mental Health

By Daniel Cherry | Published 30 Dec 2011 06:35pm | comments

The U.S. Department of Justice is ordering Mississippi to change its approach to treating the mentally ill or face stiff penalties. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how the Justice Department says the state is over-institutionalizing its citizens.

The recent report follows a nearly year-long investigation of mental health care in Mississippi. The Department of Justice notified state officials, Mississippi is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by over-institutionalizing patients in state hospitals. Vanessa Carrol, an attorney with the Souther Poverty Law Center has worked on the case, she says the mentally ill, especially children, need other options.

"They don't have the opportunity to fully realize their potential. They often learn new negative behaviors and they don't have the opportunity to employ the new skills they're supposed to be learning back in their home environment."

The Department of Justice says the state has to shift from institutionalizing patients to a more community based system. Maurice Kahlmus, Region 10 community mental health director, says he would like to see a balance where institutions are used to treat major mental health situations and let community centers handle less severe cases.

"They don't have to go through the commitment process. They can get stabilized and turned around and sent back to their community health center. I really think that's a big need. More of those type beds as opposed to maybe the full institutional type setting."

Other states have implemented more community care, but so far Mississippi hasn't followed suit. Mary Troupe with the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities says first the legislature will have to change the way it appropriates funds.

"Mental health needs to find some way to supplement and augment those services in the community. See we're still cutting things that would help within the community because we want to keep that mental health complex still running."

Later this year Justice Department officials will meet with state leaders to discuss how to get in compliance with the order. 

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