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Rights Of Persons With Disabilities


The Special Litigation Section protects the rights of people in institutions run by state or local governments, and in private facilities receiving public money. We can ensure that people are safe, receive adequate care, and have access to that care in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. We can also act on behalf of people who are at serious risk of being institutionalized unnecessarily.

We use information from community members affected by civil rights violations to bring and pursue cases. The voice of the community is very important to us. We receive hundreds of reports of potential violations each week. We collect this information and it informs our case selection. We may sometimes use it as evidence in existing cases. However, we cannot bring a case based on every report we receive.

Description of the Laws We Use in Our Disability Rights Work

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997a, allows the Attorney General to review conditions and practices within institutions run by, or for, state and local governments. Under CRIPA, we have no authority to assist with individual claims. We also cannot correct a problem in a federal facility or actions by federal officials. We do not assist in criminal cases.

After a CRIPA investigation, we can act if we identify a systemic pattern or practice that causes harm. Evidence of harm to one individual only - even if that harm is serious - is not enough. If we find systemic problems, we may send the state or local government a letter that describes the problems and what says what steps they must take to fix them. We will try to reach an agreement with the state or local government on how to fix the problems. If we cannot agree, then the Attorney General may file a lawsuit in federal court.

The Attorney General may also use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, to ensure that people with disabilities can access care without being institutionalized. Our ADA investigations ask whether the State uses institutions to serve people who can benefit from and would prefer to receive those services in the community. These investigations rely on the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). In Olmstead, the Court said that people with disabilities have a right to be served in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs and wishes. These investigations can also fix poor conditions by reducing the number of people crowded into institutions.

Results of Our Disability Rights Work

We obtain broad remedies where possible. For example, we have agreements about the entire system serving people with developmental or intellectual disabilities in Virginia, the entire mental health system in the State of Delaware, and all of the state-run mental health hospitals in Georgia.

Tens of thousands of institutionalized persons who were living in dire, often life-threatening, conditions now receive adequate care and services because of this work. Many more thousands of people with disabilities have left segregated institutions after years of confinement, or avoided this confinement in the first place. We currently have open matters in more than half the states.

Our work includes many different kinds of activity. We speak with community stakeholders. We review and investigate complaints. We file lawsuits in federal court when necessary, and enforce orders we obtain from the courts. We participate in cases brought by private parties. We work closely with nationally renowned experts to provide training and technical assistance.

We work closely with other parts of the Justice Department and other federal agencies that regulate, fund, and provide technical assistance to state and local governments. We work with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, the United States Department of Education, the Department of Housing, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, among other agencies. In addition, our staff serves on the Department's Health Care Fraud Working Group and other task forces.

For further information, follow the links below:

Updated July 22, 2016