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Civil Rights of Institutionalized People

You still have civil rights if you're confined in a state or locally-run institution. The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), enacted by Congress in 1980, protects those rights. Private facilities aren't covered under the Act.

CRIPA doesn't create new rights for inmates or other institutionalized people. Instead, it provides a process for the Attorney General or the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce existing rights. CRIPA allows the DOJ, a federal agency, to bring a civil action in federal court against a state or local government for a civil rights violation regarding an institutionalized person.

This article addresses the institutions and actions CRIPA covers. It also discusses the CRIPA process. The article next addresses what to do if you suspect a violation of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. Finally, the article discusses other laws protecting institutionalized people.

Institutions and Abuses Covered by CRIPA

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) generally applies to five types of institutions. These include:

  • Jails and prisons
  • Juvenile correctional facilities and detention facilities
  • State or locally-run mental health-health care facilities
  • State or locally-run developmental disability and intellectual disability facilities
  • State or locally-run nursing homes

Significant problems covered by CRIPA include:

  • Sexual victimization of women prisoners
  • Neglect and abuse in juvenile facilities and nursing homes
  • Inadequate education in facilities serving adolescents and children
  • Unmet mental health needs of pretrial detainees and inmates
  • Rights of institutionalized people with disabilities to receive active treatment and adequate rehabilitation

The CRIPA Process

The CRIPA process starts when the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) gets a report of any civil rights abuses at a covered institution. The case is usually assigned to an investigator within the DOJ.

Institutions are entitled to a notification that an investigation is about to begin. Investigations include things like:

  • Requests for documents, e.g., by an assistant attorney general
  • Interviews, including with family members of the complaining inmate or institutionalized person
  • Visits to the offending facility

If civil rights violations are found, the caseworker will notify the institution of the violations, suggest remedies, and provide a deadline for correcting the offending practices. Avoiding a lawsuit is in the institution's and the DOJ's best interests. So, the DOJ typically makes good faith efforts to help the offending institution remedy the problems. If these efforts are unsuccessful, the DOJ can institute a legal proceeding in the appropriate district court.

In a CRIPA action, the court's only remedy is an injunction. The court may issue an injunction requiring the offending institution to correct its problematic practices.

What To Do if You Notice a Violation

Suppose you observe a civil rights violation within a state-owned institution. In that case, you have a few options for proceeding. A civil rights attorney can explain all your options to you and aid in implementing a plan. If the institutionalized person is a close family member or a child, you may be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf. A lawsuit may not only force the institution to correct its practices but may also force the institution to pay damages for the loss of civil rights.

If you can't speak with an attorney, contact the DOJ using the information on their special litigation site. If that fails, alert your local news channels about the issue. The DOJ may then take notice and begin an investigation.

Other Laws Protecting Institutionalized People

In addition to CRIPA, other federal laws protect institutionalized people's civil rights. These laws include:

These laws mainly protect against disability discrimination in various contexts. The Rehabilitation Act applies to entities receiving federal funds, whereas the ADA applies to state and local facilities regardless of their receipt of federal financial assistance.

Protect Your Civil and Constitutional Rights

Just like you have rights to medical care, a public education, and equal access to public accommodations, you have rights as an institutionalized person. Civil rights laws like CRIPA are in place to protect your legal rights.

Are you dealing with abuse in your nursing home? Protect your constitutional and statutory rights by talking to an experienced civil rights attorney today.

An attorney can help ensure that the federal government is doing its job to protect you and determine whether there's reasonable cause to suspect your rights have been violated. You have federal rights regardless of where you live in the United States.

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