FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ISSUES FINDINGS LETTER DETAILING CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT CALIFORNIA MENTAL HOSPITAL
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the results of its investigation into the conditions of confinement at the Metropolitan State Hospital (“Metropolitan”), in Norwalk, California. The investigation identified significant violations of patients’ federal civil rights at the facility. The Department’s findings were transmitted in a letter from R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Metropolitan houses approximately 825 patients, ranging in age from 11 to more than 80, roughly 725 of whom are adults. The investigation uncovered deficiencies in patient assessments, treatment planning and implementation as well as discharge planning. It also found deficiencies regarding Metropolitan’s documentation of patient progress, use of restraints, seclusion, and “as-needed” medications, as well as the protections from harm it affords patients. Finally, investigators determined that Metropolitan infringes upon its patients’ First Amendment rights, in not allowing patients to communicate freely with the federal government.
“Patients such as those at Metropolitan are uniquely unable to help themselves,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of those patients. We have been gratified by the state’s cooperation in this matter, and are working with the state to resolve these problems.”
This is the Department’s second letter of findings regarding unconstitutional conditions at Metropolitan. On May 13, 2003, the Division issued findings regarding the child and adolescent units. The Department’s latest letter addresses the facility’s adult units and hospital-wide deficiencies regarding protection from harm. The Department’s investigation of Metropolitan began on March 21, 2002, and is ongoing.
The investigation was conducted by the Civil Rights Division pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (“CRIPA”). CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate and root out systemic abuses such as those identified here. Recently, the Department filed suit against the state of Mississippi to end abuses of confined juveniles in that state, entered into an agreement with the state of Louisiana regarding conditions at the state’s two largest residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities, and entered into an agreement with Breathitt County, Kentucky, regarding conditions at the county’s nursing home.
Since 2001, the Department of Justice has opened 38 similar investigations into nursing homes, mental health facilities and residences for persons with developmental disabilities, juvenile justice facilities, and prisons. These figures represent a 90 percent increase over the 20 such investigations initiated over the preceding three years.
The findings letter and additional information about the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division can be found at <http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/index/html>.