Feds investigating treatment of mentally ill in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into how Kentucky cares for mentally ill adults in the Louisville area.

The probe will look into potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Investigators are looking at whether the state subjects adults with serious mental illness “to unnecessary institutionalization and serious risk of institutionalization in psychiatric hospitals,” according to a media release from the Justice Department.

The probe is separate from an DOJ investigation announced last year into potential racial bias and civil rights violations by Louisville’s police force, which was prompted by the police killing of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, in 2020.

The Justice Department said Tuesday the new probe would look into whether severely mentally ill patients are unnecessarily brought into encounters with law enforcement. Several inmate deaths have occurred at the Louisville’s jail in recent months, though the DOJ did not say the probe would specifically look at that facility’s practices.

“When people do not receive the community-based mental health services they need, they often get caught in a cycle of psychiatric hospital stays,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke with the department’s Civil Rights Division.

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services was notified about the probe Tuesday morning.

“It is our understanding that the Department of Justice inquiry is about whether more individuals who are being institutionalized could be receiving community-based services, which is typically a determination made via court order,” a statement from the cabinet said. “We will continue to work with our partners to help strengthen public safety and make sure those in need get the services they deserve.”

Michael Bennett, the U.S. Attorney in Louisville, said states must “make reasonable accommodations and provide appropriate community-based services to people with disabilities.”

The Department of Justice said people with relevant information in Kentucky could contact the DOJ through email at community.kentucky@usdoj.gov.

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