Thursday, December 04, 2008

Texas Comes Deservedly Under Fire

The appalling care of the mentally disabled in Texas is a story worth disseminating. Whereas the system of state institutions that warehoused and abused the disabled (as late as the 1970s and 1980s) has mostly been dismantled and shuttered around the country, it seems that such treatment is still alive and well in the Lone Star state.

Now, the United States Justice Department has weighed in for the third time in three years to clearly state that the Texan system of care for the institutionalized mentally disabled is decades behind the rest of the country and consistently violates consumers' constitutional rights. Unearthed documents detail beatings, sexual assaults, neglect, and possible allegations of homicide. And according to the Associated Press, more than 800 employees have been fired since 2000 due to reports of abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Called "the institution capital of America", Texas has been accused of warehousing consumers at a rate six times above the national average.

The 62-page downloadable report by the Justice Department details the observed abuses, poor admissions process, lack of knowledge of community services, poor rehabilitation services, and a high rate of injury among residents. Further supporting the evidence that the Texan "state schools" are decades behind the times, the use of straight jackets and other restraints are a common part of residents' behavior management plans, a practice that has been out of fashion (and deemed unconstitutional) for decades.

With its astronomically high rate of (racially skewed) incarceration of the general population and a widely criticized history of aggressive (and racially skewed) capital punishment, Texas obviously needs to do some soul-searching. The Texan system of "state schools" must be immediately dismantled, and a modern and constitutional system of community-based services for the mentally disabled must be put into place as soon as possible. The state government may want to consider creating a trust fund to benefit those who have already been abused and damaged by such egregious and nefarious treatment, and it would not surprise me if a massive class action lawsuit---and criminal proceedings---begin to rise to the surface as the dust settles on this sad moment in American and Texan history.

With every crisis comes opportunity, and Texas now faces a moment wherein it can turn the tables, turn history on its head, and create the most progressive and forward-looking system of care for the mentally disabled in the country. Such a feat will take political will of untold proportions, and it remains to be seen if Governor Perry will step up to the plate. If he has read the report sent to him by the Department of Justice, I hope he did so with tears in his eyes and pain in his heart. The human beings who have been unjustly abused in the Texas state schools are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, mothers and fathers. How we care for our most vulnerable citizens is a true test of our humanity, and on that scorecard, Texas has certainly failed miserably.

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