Psych patients abused, suit claims
Groups accuse Florida State Hospital of rights violations
12:00 AM, May. 10, 2011  

TALLAHASSEE - Mentally incompetent people accused of crimes are thrown into
solitary confinement and strapped down in chairs at Florida State Hospital
in Chattahoochee more than necessary, according to a federal lawsuit filed
against the state by two advocacy groups.

The class-action suit, filed on behalf of more than 60 people in the
Mentally Retarded Defendant Program, also alleges that the Agency for
Persons with Disabilities offers little rehabilitation for such offenders.

The suit does not seek financial damages, but asks the court to declare
that conditions violate the patients' constitutional rights.

Charles Ball, former superintendent of the MRDP, said on Monday that
restraint and confinement are used only when someone becomes dangerous to
staff or other residents of the unit.

"We have a protocol for the use of restraint and/or seclusion that will
guide us through the process," Ball said. "At no point do people get locked
down in a room with no contact unless their behavior is constantly at a
threat level to other people in the room."

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee late last week by
Florida Institutional Legal Services Inc., a nonprofit law firm advocating
for institutionalized persons, and Disability Rights Florida Inc., a
statewide advocacy group.

Three Florida State Hospital residents were identified as plaintiffs.

Attorney Katy DeBriere of Institutional Legal Services said lack of
counseling and medical treatment can cause a patient to become disruptive,
resulting in "seclusion" in a locked room or being restrained in a strapped