Thomas Howard: State hasn’t even tried to comply

By THOMAS HOWARD,

The mean old Federal government is picking on Mississippi again this week, or at least that’s what the state’s lawyers would have you believe.

The AP reports federal prosecutors are accusing the state of violating the Olmstead Act, which says “unjustified” confinement in a mental health facility is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They argue locking up mentally ill people for long periods of time is harmful when community-based facilities can provide treatment without incarceration.

The idea is to get a judge to force Mississippi to expand its community mental health treatment and stop locking up people for being mentally ill. They want the state to follow the law.

The state argues that’s too hard and accuse the federal government of picking on poor little Mississippi.

Setting aside the fact that these are grown men and women using a defense in a federal courtroom most put in the “does not work” folder after second grade, what exactly is the state trying to say here?

A government has one job, just one; they take care of the people. Laws are put in place for safety and order, services are offered to facilitate day-to-day activities, infrastructure opens up travel, but the whole thing, the whole idea of government is to provide for the people.

If that’s too hard, quit and get a job at Wendy’s.

Secondly, there’s the issue of the Olmstead Act, with which Mississippi is not, nor, to the best of my knowledge, has ever been in compliance.

The state argues the feds are going too far, stretching the law to be particularly harsh. However, the Deputy Director for the Department of Mental Health testified he’d never seen a state plan on Olmstead and the Department’s strategic plan has no way to measure progress toward goals. In short, the state hasn’t bothered to try to comply.

Why should the Federal government give an exception to a state that won’t even try? If I don’t show up to work for a week, chances are I won’t have a job. In the real world, there are consequences. Where have these lawyers been living that they don’t understand this?

But, the worst part of this trial isn’t the glaring stupidity of the state’s argument. It’s the appalling revelation that since 1999, the people in charge of directing care for one of the most vulnerable groups of people have knowingly and unapologetically kept those in their care needlessly imprison. Their reasoning: it was easier than doing our job.

Thomas is the managing editor of the Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@newtoncountyappeal.com