STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Federal judge intervenes in Mississippi mental health system

MGN Online

Judge Carlton Reeves said he wants to appoint an outsider to oversee changes to Mississippi's mental health system.

Posted: Sep 4, 2019 10:55 AM
Updated: Sep 4, 2019 3:12 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge will appoint an expert to oversee changes to Mississippi's mental health system, saying that attorneys for the federal government have proved the state is doing too little to serve people outside the confinement of mental hospitals.

"The United States has met its burden and shown that despite the state's episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness," U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote late Tuesday in a ruling on a federal lawsuit.


U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves | Photo: Megan Bean / Mississippi State University

Reeves wrote that he's "keenly aware of the judiciary's limitations" in cases like this. He ordered the state and federal government to each suggest three possible names to act as a special master, along with a proposal for that person's role.

Until Reeves decides on the special master's role, the depth of federal intervention into the mental health system won't be clear.

It's also unclear if the state will appeal the ruling, but lawyers appeared to be laying the grounds for an appeal during a monthlong trial this summer.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office defended the state in the lawsuit. On Wednesday, Hood said Mississippi's mental health agency does what it can with a limited budget, and he sharply criticized lawmakers for not putting millions more dollars into community-based services. He said that starting in 2013, he sent several letters to top lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, telling them the state was at risk of being sued over mental health care. Hood said his office had collected tens of millions of dollars in settlements from unrelated lawsuits, and legislators ignored his suggestion that they use that money to improve mental health care.

"They buried their heads in the sand. That's what Tate Reeves has done," said Hood, who is the Democratic nominee for governor and will face Tate Reeves — the Republican nominee and no relation to Carlton Reeves — in the Nov. 5 election.

Hood said he did not yet have a suggestion who should serve as special master or what that person should do.

"It's just another situation where we have to fix a problem that the federal court has ordered us to do," Hood said. "Many of us don't like a federal court telling us what to do. I don't like it. We ought to fix our own problems before a federal court has to step in."

The U.S. Justice Department argued that Mississippi's movement toward community services was far too slow, forcing hundreds or thousands of people into avoidable hospital stays. Judge Reeves found that Mississippi is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said "unjustified" mental hospital confinement is illegal.

The judge rejected Mississippi's arguments that it was progressing on its own and that a judge couldn't find it in violation. He wrote that the law and court decisions "protect persons trapped in a snail's-pace deinstitutionalization."

"The United States' experts provided dozens of examples of individuals who were unnecessarily hospitalized or hospitalized too long because they were excluded from community-based services," the judge wrote.

The federal government catalogued a litany of alleged transgressions during the trial, including mentally ill people held in jails because crisis teams don't respond; people forced to live far from their family because services aren't available in their hometowns; and people who make repeat trips to state mental hospitals because there's no effective planning for them to transition to community services and the most intensive kinds of services aren't made available.

The federal judge said that even in some cases where community-bases services are supposed to be available, that availability is illusory. He cited the case of Adams County, whose sheriff testified that the regional community mental health center doesn't respond to his calls.

"Geographic availability does not always translate into true accessibility," Judge Reeves wrote.

Joy Hogge, director of mental health advocacy group Families As Allies, said it's been clear since 2011, when Mississippi was cited by the federal government, that it was violating the law.

"I hope this will be an opportunity for our state to look at how the system should be structured ... so that all of the parts work together and so that we don't have the gaps that lead to the problems that were referenced in the ruling," Hogge said Wednesday.

Editor's Note: The Associated Press updated this article at 2:49 p.m. with information from Jim Hood. 

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30900

Reported Deaths: 1111
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds249840
DeSoto159416
Madison130034
Jones112449
Neshoba98871
Rankin93412
Harrison91211
Lauderdale90979
Forrest86942
Scott77115
Jackson62216
Copiah60215
Washington5849
Leake57819
Holmes55341
Lee54718
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51518
Yazoo5096
Leflore48751
Grenada4835
Lowndes48313
Lincoln46034
Lamar4587
Pike43112
Monroe40130
Lafayette3914
Sunflower3727
Attala36023
Covington3565
Panola3506
Newton3399
Bolivar33414
Simpson3173
Adams31118
Pontotoc2866
Tate28310
Marion28111
Chickasaw27718
Claiborne27410
Noxubee2638
Jasper2626
Winston2616
Pearl River25432
Clay25010
Marshall2323
Smith21811
Clarke20724
Union2079
Coahoma2016
Walthall1995
Kemper17914
Lawrence1772
Yalobusha1707
Carroll16511
Humphreys1479
Tallahatchie1364
Itawamba1358
Montgomery1322
Calhoun1304
Tippah13011
Hancock12813
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1114
Prentiss1083
Jefferson1073
Greene1058
Tunica1003
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George883
Tishomingo801
Quitman760
Choctaw744
Alcorn692
Perry664
Stone651
Franklin452
Sharkey370
Benton360
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 43450

Reported Deaths: 984
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5221152
Montgomery4127103
Mobile4080134
Tuscaloosa228842
Marshall171110
Madison14307
Lee138437
Shelby128423
Morgan11025
Walker93924
Elmore92514
Franklin89514
Dallas8809
Baldwin8649
Etowah73913
DeKalb7195
Butler63328
Chambers62927
Autauga60712
Tallapoosa59169
Russell5520
Unassigned50323
Houston4964
Limestone4950
Lauderdale4906
Lowndes47221
Cullman4524
Pike4295
Colbert3956
St. Clair3822
Coffee3772
Bullock36910
Covington3587
Calhoun3545
Escambia3506
Barbour3492
Hale31121
Talladega3097
Marengo30211
Wilcox2918
Dale2880
Sumter28512
Clarke2746
Jackson2732
Winston2583
Chilton2462
Blount2351
Monroe2352
Pickens2356
Marion22413
Conecuh2097
Randolph2069
Choctaw19512
Macon1949
Bibb1901
Greene1868
Perry1771
Henry1343
Crenshaw1253
Washington1097
Lawrence1080
Cherokee977
Geneva800
Lamar771
Fayette701
Clay652
Coosa581
Cleburne361
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 75°
Columbus
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 72°
Starkville
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 70°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather