DOJ Files to Stop Unsafe Practices at Arkansas Center

The Justice Department asked the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to take immediate action to prevent children from being admitted to the Conway Human Development Center (CHDC) in Conway, Ark. The department's March 9 motion for preliminary injunction aims to prevent the segregation of children with developmental disabilities in dangerous conditions and to address accusations of imminent and serious threats to the safety of the facility's more than 500 current residents.

In January 2009, DOJ filed a complaint against the State of Arkansas to enforce the federal requirement that individuals with disabilities be served in the most integrated settings appropriate, and to remedy unconstitutional conditions at CHDC. Information collected through discovery since the filing of the complaint has led the department to conclude that residents face increasing and grave risk of harm with each day that deficiencies are ignored, and that Arkansas fails to serve individuals in the most integrated setting appropriate to the residents' needs, DOJ said.

The United States has concluded that children at the facility are particularly vulnerable given allegations that CHDC residents are subjected to dangerous medication mismanagement and harmful, unnecessary restraints. In recent years, at least three CHDC residents have died, suffered possible permanent organ damage, or been at risk of hemorrhaging to death because of psychotropic medication mismanagement. CHDC also continues to utilize 41 different forms of mechanical restraints on both children and adults, including straitjackets, restraint chairs, and papoose boards -- practices that have been largely barred from other facilities for years.

In addition to barring inappropriate restraints and requiring safeguards to prevent dangerous medication practices, the motion seeks to require that the state remove barriers to the provision of supports and services in the community, so that individuals with disabilities, including the approximately 50 children at CHDC, are not forced to choose between an unsafe institution and the denial of necessary services in a more integrated setting.

According to DOJ, between June 1, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2009, a CHDC resident was more likely to die than be discharged to a more integrated setting. On average, CHDC residents die at the age of 46.5 years, compared with the average age of 72 years for other individuals with developmental disabilities living in institutional settings, DOJ said. The number of individuals with developmental disabilities who are waiting to receive community-based services is on the rise in Arkansas, with more than 1,300 currently waiting to receive services through the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Alternative Community Services waiver program, with an average wait time of approximately two and a half years.

DOJ's Civil Rights Division is authorized to conduct investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). CRIPA authorizes the attorney general to investigate conditions of confinement in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state and local governments. The ADA authorizes the attorney general to investigate whether a state is serving individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. For more information about CRIPA, ADA, and other laws enforced by DOJ's Civil Rights Division, visit www.justice.gov/crt.

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