Federal judge: An outside expert should oversee changes to Mississippi’s mental health system

Federal judge: An outside expert should oversee changes to Mississippi’s mental health system

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Time’s up for the state to decide how to offer more community-based care for the mentally ill in Mississippi.

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves is asking that a “special master” be appointed to speed up the process and prioritize that type care. While there will be a required oversight of the state’s progress, as Attorney General Jim Hood explains, it’s not a takeover.

“The state agencies will implement it," Hood noted. "It’s not like the federal government is going to come in and take it over and fix it. It’s going to be up to the state to do it. The court will just order us to do these things and we’ll estimate what it will cost and the legislature will have to pay for it.”

Hood says he sent multiple letters to legislative leadership warning that the lawsuit was likely if they didn’t make more of an investment in mental health.

“We’ve known for several years what we needed to do. We just didn’t have the funding to do it.”

Judge Reeves’ opinion says Mississippi’s mental health system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it forces those with mental illness to either live without help in the community or be institutionalized. Advocates say more community based care is necessary, and the DOJ argued in court that the state hasn’t moved towards that fast enough.

“It’s important that I get to live with my family," said Families as Allies Executive Director Joy Hogge. "My job means a lot to me. Having friends means a lot to me. That doesn’t change just because you have a mental illness. So, being able to set things up so people can do those normal things and also be able to manage their mental illness, that works better for them and it also works better for all of us.”

To view Judge Reeves’ opinion, click HERE.

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