United States Department of Justice findings letters in psychiatric hospital CRIPA cases: an aid or a distraction?
The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) of 1980 allows the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate and file lawsuits against certain institutions, including state and county psychiatric hospitals, where individuals within may face unconstitutional conditions. Subsequent to an investigation and before negotiations or litigation, the state is provided a Findings Letter generated by the DOJ that generally contains recommended remedial measures. It has never been
... etermined to what extent a Findings Letter provides a state with a recommendation specific to the institution for corrective action before the state enters into negotiations with the DOJ. Three study groups were derived from a sample of 15 Findings Letters written to states concerning their psychiatric hospitals between 2003 and 2009. The individual recommended remedial measures, labeled texts of interest (TOI), were identified, and the degree of overlap among the Findings Letters was determined. To a surprising degree, TOIs overlapped to various extents, from exact copies of text to paraphrased versions, in Findings Letters written between 2003 and 2009 to different states and for multiple state hospitals in the same state. The recommended remedial measures provided in the DOJ's Findings Letters are not specific to each state hospital's deficiencies. The Findings Letters offer limited guidance to the state on how to remedy the deficiencies before negotiating with the DOJ. This lack of specificity causes inefficient and delayed remediation of unconstitutional conditions and other deficiencies in care and treatment in psychiatric hospitals. While the current process most often leads to improvements in state hospitals, it is a costly, inefficient remedy, despite the possibility of alternative remedial processes of less expensive and equal or greater effectiveness.