Louisville, Kentucky (WDRB) – The US Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into how Louisville and Jefferson County treated people with serious mental illness.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said it has begun an investigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into whether Kentucky is “subjecting adults with serious mental illness who live in the Louisville/Jefferson County metro area to unnecessary institutionalization, and a significant risk of institutionalization.” in psychiatric hospitals.
The Civil Rights Inquiry will focus on whether Kentucky unnecessarily segregates people with serious mental illness into psychiatric hospitals because they fail to provide mental health services in the community. The result could put those who suffer from mental illness at greater risk for confrontations with law enforcement.
“When people do not receive the community mental health services they need, they often fall into a cycle of psychiatric hospital stays,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in the statement. “This investigation also seeks to ensure that people with serious mental illness do not needlessly come into contact with law enforcement.”
The Department of Justice did not give any reason to start the investigation at this time.
David Holton, the former president of Seven County Services, the region’s leading mental health provider, believes the investigation addresses a decades-old problem with the state not properly funding mental health care.
“We have the desire, but we don’t have the will,” Holton said. “The will means we have to spend the right money to care for our people with serious mental illnesses.”
The investigation is separate from the ongoing investigation at the Department of Justice of the Louisville/Jefferson County Government (Louisville Metro) and the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD). This investigation is already looking at how the city and police are responding to people with behavioral health crises.
Louisville Metro Council Chairman David James said the announcement of the second investigation surprised him.
“We just started our deviance program to deal with mental health issues on the street to make sure we don’t arrest people who actually have a mental health issue and shouldn’t be in jail,” James said.
The investigation is being conducted by the Special Litigation Division of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC and the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville.
This probe flies in the face of Cane Madden’s bill. The 2021 law closed a loophole that allowed people who were seriously ill to stand trial, and not sick enough to commit, to return to the streets for re-offending. It came on the heels of community outrage as Madden was accused of beating and raping an eight-year-old girl and the charges against him were dismissed.
The statement said the offices of the Kentucky Governor and the Attorney General have been notified of the investigation.
Kentucky Governor Andy Bashir’s office released the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:
“The Department continues to prioritize mental health for the people of Kentucky. Governor Beshear has signed legislation requiring mental health to be treated equal with physical health and has worked to expand Medicaid coverage and telehealth services, which make behavioral services more accessible. It is our understanding that the Department’s inquiry Justice on whether more individuals who are institutionalized can receive community services, which is usually a decision made through court order We will continue to work with our partners to help promote public safety and ensure that those in need get the services they deserve.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher also issued a statement following the announcement.
“This investigation by the Department of Justice relates to the state’s provision of mental health services to residents of Louisville, and we appreciate any efforts to ensure that people receive appropriate care.”
Anyone with information relevant to the investigation is asked to send an email Community.Kentucky@usdoj.gov or through the Civil Rights Portal of the Civil Rights Division, available at https://civilrights.justice.gov.
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