A disability-rights group has filed a federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, claiming that three people with autism and mental illness remained institutionalized solely because of the state’s failure to provide sufficient community-based services.
The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania announced the suit Monday on behalf of Stephen Kline, 25, a onetime Allegheny County resident who now is an inmate at Mifflin County Jail; Gabriel Gamble, 30, a patient at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County; and Matthew Christy, 26, a patient at Warren State Hospital in Warren County.
The suit claims the state does not have enough beds in community-care programs for all of those needing autism and mental health services — more than 1,000 are waiting — and that people in jails and state hospitals face special obstacles to community care.
The state declined to comment on the suit, the third in as many years alleging that it inadequately cared for people with mental illness.
Mr. Kline, who has autism spectrum disorder and a mood disorder, was sentenced to up to a year in jail following his arrest for setting fire to car. Eligible for release in May, he remains in jail because of a lack of community-based residential and treatment services, according to the suit.
“If Mr. Kline does not receive appropriate community-based supports and services by Jan. 1, 2016, when his maximum sentence is completed and the jail must release him, he will be homeless and at serious risk of placement in a psychiatric hospital” or of another arrest and incarceration, the suit says.
Mr. Gamble, who has autism spectrum disorder and schizoaffective disorder, has done so well during three years at Torrance that officials recommended his discharge. But he remains there because of the lack of community services, the suit alleges.
Mr. Christy, a patient at Warren State Hospital for two years, has autism spectrum disorder and various mental illnesses. He “has stabilized” but remains at the hospital because of a lack of slots in community programs, according to the suit, which says unnecessary institutionalization violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws.
In 2013, the Disability Rights Network sued the Department of Corrections, alleging that the state misused solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. The state took corrective action.
In October, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Department of Human Services has not provided timely treatment for mentally ill defendants ruled incompetent to stand trial. That suit is pending.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.