Enforcing the Promise: Utilizing the State Patients’ Bill of Rights to Create Capacity for Care in the Community Rather than Institutions

Kathy Flaherty, J.D.

Earlier this year, Connecticut Legal Rights Project brought a class-action lawsuit against the State of Connecticut and the state-operated psychiatric inpatient facilities alleging violations of the state Patients’ Bill of Rights. Civil commitment orders under existing Connecticut law are of indeterminate length; individuals subject to such orders receive a clinical review after one year, and a full due process review by a probate court after two years, despite a ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1977 that this procedure violates the substantive constitutional right to liberty as soon as the person does not meet commitment standards. In addition, the state’s failure to measure the need and create capacity for residential supports and services in the community so that a person shall be discharged to the most integrated setting appropriate with their needs within a reasonable time of not meeting state standards for civil commitment means that individuals whose condition has improved such that they no longer meet civil commitment standards remain unconstitutionally segregated and institutionalized, in violation of their civil rights.

Learning Goals and Objectives:

  • We will discuss the legal theories on which this pending lawsuit was based, and why the decision was made to bring this litigation at this point in time.
  • We will discuss steps taken that did not produce the desired outcome, thus resulting in the need for litigation.
  • We hope that by the end of the session, people will have a greater understanding of options that may be available under state law to protect civil rights that are more often enforced through federal litigation