Friday, June 10, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – For the second time this year a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging how the state of Arkansas treats people with developmental disabilities.

A legal challenge of policies at the Conway Human Development Center, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, was dismissed last week. A related suit filed by the U.S. Justice Department was dismissed in January. The lawsuits challenged treatment methods at Arkansas Human Development Centers.

Both lawsuits alleged that Arkansas violated the rights of people with disabilities because it commits them to institutions when instead it should place them in community care. The lawsuits also contended that staff relied too much on physical restraints and strong drugs to control the behavior of residents.

The judge ruled that the allegations against the Conway HDC were not supported by evidence. Of about 500 residents in the Conway center, 39 are children.

The Arkansas Division of Developmental Disabilities Services operates five HDCs, at Conway, Arkadelphia, Booneville, Jonesboro and Warren. A facility at the Alexander recently closed. The centers treat about 1,000 people with multiple and severe disabilities. The centers employ more than 2,300 staff.

The Division also provides help for about 2,690 children every day in community programs. Also, more than 4,000 people with disabilities get help through home-based and community programs paid for by Medicaid and provided by the Division.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department said that federal officials had not decided yet whether to appeal. Arkansas officials were pleased by the ruling but would not be surprised if the federal government pursued further legal challenges.

The governor has defended the placement of people within the HDCs, saying that long term facilities are one of several options that families can choose when they seek treatment of loved ones with disabilities. He called the judge's ruling "a victory for the residents, families and staff of the Conway Human Development Center."

The attorney general said that Arkansas officials were confident of being able to defend the quality of care in the HDCs. Arkansas chose to defend its policies in court, unlike several other states that accepted a settlement with the federal government rather than risk an adverse ruling.

Classes in Juvenile Detention Center

Legislators want more information about the academic classes offered to youths who spend time in juvenile detention facilities. Lawmakers want to make sure the young people are being taught at grade level and are making progress toward a high school diploma or a GED.

The Division of Youth Services operates eight centers that securely house young people who have gone through the juvenile justice system. Many of the youths need drug abuse treatment and psychiatric counseling. They also need to keep up with their studies so that when they leave the facility and return to high school they have a better chance of fitting in. Legislators are studying whether to put their classes under the supervision of local school districts, or under the state Education Department.

The Youth Services Division helped more than 9,300 adolescents last year.

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