The advocacy of The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is based on the principle that every individual is entitled to choice and dignity. I knew it in 1987-89 as the Mental Health Law Project which it remained until 1993 when it was renamed to honor the federal appeals court judge "whose landmark decisions pioneered the field of mental health law". I had contact then, to the best of my recollections, because St. Elizabeth Hospital was under court mandate to transfer as many as possible of the non-acute patients to community settings. It was my reponsibility to report the District's progress to the committee the court charged with overseeing compliance with the court order, St. Elizabeth [it is properly St. Elizabeth not St. Elizabeths as most peopl mistakenly call it] having recently been transferred from the federal government to the District of Columbia. What made it especially interesting was that few, if any, of the commitee members had experienhce in, or with, a large urban area and therefore didn't understand the difficulties we faced.
Today, as I pointed out, The Bazelon Center says, on it's web site, that it bases it's work on that principle, which means, for many people with disabilities, things as basic as having a decent place to live, supportive services and equality of opportunity. The Center concentrates it's efforts in four broad areas of advocacy: 1] Advancing Community membership; 2] Promoting Self-Determination; 3] Ending the Punishment of People with Mental Illnesses for the System's Failures and Preserving Rights. Community membership means, to the Center, enabling people with mental disabilities to participate equally with other members of the community in contributing as part of the workforce and enjoying the social, recreational, political, educational and cultural benefits of life in the community. Promoting self-determination means that people with mental disabilities have the right to be independent, free from coercion and invasion of privacy. Most importantly, in my opinion, it means that people should have a voice in their treatment decisions and control over who has access to their treatment records. Ending the punishment of people for the failures of the system.This means that jailing or forcing people into outpatient treatment is a poor substitute for adequate mental health treatment and support services. It also means that families should not have to give up custody of their children in order to access needed treatment for them. Preserving rights means to defend the rights gained in recent decades in the aeas of housing, health care, education and civil rights.
The Bazelon Center has, for 30 years, led the way to define and advance the rights for people with mental disabilities in several areas, including : 1]The Right to Treatment; 2]The Right to Services in the Most Integrated Setting; 3]The Right to live in the Community; 4] The Right to Education and 5] The Right to Federal Entitlements. Much of this has been done in conjunction with others. The Center lacks the staff resources to respond effectively to individual requests for assistance and refers those seeking legal help to contact the federally funded protection and advocacy group in their state for assistance to people with mental disabilities in understanding and asserting their rights. What happens in the states when problems arise there? That's the subject for another article.