Raleigh, NC: Disability Rights North Carolina is extremely disappointed that Governor Perdue’s 2012-2013 budget fails to address the violations of federal disability law identified by the US Department of Justice (US DOJ) in response to a July 2010 complaint by Disability Rights. Without improvements to North Carolina’s system to care for people with mental illness in the community, the State is likely to face litigation. Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC, says, “The Governor failed to lead North Carolina through this crisis. We call on the General Assembly to fund measures to enable people with mental illness to live in their communities and protect the State from the unnecessary expense and turmoil of litigation.”

The Governor has been in negotiations with the US DOJ since June 2011 to develop a voluntary compliance agreement and avoid the possibility of the US DOJ filing suit against the State. Staff familiar with budget development and US DOJ negotiations have asserted repeatedly over the last three months that the Governor’s budget would include funding for the changes required to avert litigation. However, the Governor released her budget last week with no funding for any efforts to end the institutionalization of people with mental illness leaving the responsibility for crafting a plan entirely to the General Assembly.

Smith says, “There is still time to make historic changes to our system — to stand up for the dignity of people with mental illness in North Carolina –but we will need courage and conviction from our leaders in the General Assembly to make it happen.”

Background on North Carolinians with Mental Illness Housed in Adult Care Homes

In July 2010, Disability Rights NC filed a complaint with the US DOJ alleging that the State of North Carolina is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the State has a bias towards placing people with mental illness in Adult Care Homes (ACHs) rather than supporting them in more integrated settings in their home communities. ACHs are institutional settings that do not provide appropriate services to support recovery and meaningful community integration. Disability Rights NC alleged that the State, in relying on placements in these types of Adult Care Homes, is violating the ADA. Please see the Report: Trapped in a Fractured System – People with Mental Illness in Adult Care Homes on the website. Under the ADA the unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities is an illegal form of discrimination. The integration mandate allows individuals to interact with non-disabled persons to the fullest extent possible so people with disabilities are not isolated from their communities.

The US DOJ, Civil Rights Division, issued a letter of findings on July 28, 2011, concluding that North Carolina “fails to provide services to individuals with mental illness in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs in violation of the ADA,” and that “[r]eliance on unnecessary institutional settings violates the civil rights of people with disabilities.” The central finding of the US DOJ is that North Carolina lacks an adequate community support system for people with mental illness. As a result, individuals are institutionalized in more expensive and more restrictive settings in Adult Care Homes. “Most people with mental illness receiving services in adult care homes could be served in more integrated settings, but are relegated indefinitely and unnecessarily to adult care homes because of systemic State actions and policies,” wrote U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. “Reliance on unnecessary institutional settings violates the civil rights of people with disabilities.”