Fifteen years ago, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg announced the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Olmstead, it was immediately clear it would become the most important legal victory for people with disabilities in American history. Yet, little changed in the first years after the decision.
The Supreme Court required Georgia, and each of the other states, to provide people who were confined in institutions equivalent supports in the community. However, because of the complexity of this transformation, the Court said that states could create and carry out plans for transitioning from institutions to the community with reasonably-paced moving waiting lists.
This caveat resulted in a lot of planning and very little changing. Georgia formed commission after commission to study how the State would make changes to comply with Olmstead. But it took little action. Real change did not begin to occur until after a series of Atlanta newspaper articles brought attention to terrible incidents at Georgia’s state-run psychiatric hospitals. In their 2007 “Hidden Shame” series for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Allen Judd and Andy Miller wrote that 115 people died under suspicious circumstances in the state hospitals over a five-year period. The problems were linked to overcrowding and poor care. The series began with the story of Sarah Crider, who was a seventh grade girl who died from lethal constipation caused by her medications.
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