WASHINGTON—The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a settlement with the state of California concerning civil rights violations at four California State Hospitals. These hospitals provide inpatient psychiatric care to nearly five thousand individuals committed to the hospitals civilly or in connection with criminal proceedings.
The extensive reforms required by the five-year agreement will ensure that individuals in the hospitals are adequately protected from harm and provided adequate services to support their recovery and mental health. The agreement will be filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
"Individuals in the care of the State are entitled to be safe and provided with adequate services to promote their mental health and rehabilitation," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We applaud the leadership of state officials in acting promptly to remedy the problems and implement the reforms embodied in the agreement."
"A mental health patient in many ways is more vulnerable than other citizens, and therefore particularly needs to be protected from undue harm," said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. "The settlement will lead these well-known and often-used hospitals to enact sweeping changes that will improve the lives of hundreds of patients."
The Justice Department investigations revealed significant civil rights violations. The Department found a pattern and practice of preventable suicides and serious, life-threatening assaults on patients by staff and other patients. In two instances, patients were murdered by other patients. Care provided at the hospitals departs substantially from generally accepted professional standards, and individuals are not served in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs and the requirements of any court-ordered confinement. The state has agreed to address and correct all of the violations identified by the Department.
The four hospitals serve individuals from throughout the state: Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles; Napa State Hospital in Napa, Calif.; Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, Calif.; and Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The four-year investigation began with an investigation of Metropolitan State Hospital in 2002, during the administration of then-Governor Gray Davis. The other investigations followed: Napa in January 2004; Patton in April 2004; and Atascadero in February 2005.
The Justice Department conducted its investigation pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (CRIPA). This statute allows the federal government to identify and root out systemic abuses such as those identified in this case, rather than focus on individual civil rights violations.
The Department has successfully resolved similar investigations of other mental health facilities in North Carolina, New York, Hawaii, and Tennessee. The Department of Justice's CRIPA enforcement effort reaches beyond mental health facilities. Since 2001, the Department of Justice has opened 60 similar investigations into the terms and conditions of confinement at nursing homes, mental health facilities, residences for persons with developmental disabilities, juvenile justice facilities, jails, and prisons. These figures represent a one-third increase over the number of investigations initiated in the 1996-2000 time period.
More information about the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/index.html.