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Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) protects the civil rights of people confined in state or locally operated institutions. Private facilities, however, aren't covered under the Act. CRIPA doesn't create new rights for inmates, but rather provides a process for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce already existing rights.

Institutions and Abuses Covered by CRIPA

CRIPA generally applies to five types of institutions:

  • Jails and prisons
  • Juvenile correctional facilities
  • State or locally-run mental health facilities
  • State or locally-run developmental disability and mental retardation facilities
  • State or locally-run nursing homes

Significant problems covered by CRIPA include:

  • Abuse and neglect in nursing homes and juvenile facilities
  • Sexual victimization of women prisoners
  • Inadequate education in facilities serving children and adolescents
  • Unmet mental health needs of inmates and pre-trial detainees
  • Rights of institutionalized persons with disabilities to receive adequate rehabilitation and active treatment

The CRIPA Process

The CRIPA process begins when the Department of Justice receives reports of civil rights abuses within a publicly run institution. The case is usually assigned to an investigator within the DOJ, who then begins to research the claims of abuse. Institutions are entitled to notification that an investigation is about to begin. Investigations usually includes site visits, document production, interviews with inmates and family members, and anything else the case workers request. If no civil rights violation is found, the case is closed.

If civil rights violations are found, the case worker will notify the institution of the violations, suggest remedies, and provide a deadline by which the offending practices must be corrected. Since it's in the best interests of both the institution and the DOJ to avoid a lawsuit, the DOJ will typically work with the institution to correct the errors. However, if these efforts are unsuccessful, the DOJ will bring a lawsuit against the institution. Unlike in most federal lawsuits, the court cannot award money in a CRIPA suit. Instead, the only remedy a court can offer is to order an injunction forcing the institution to change the offending practices.

What to Do if You Notice a Violation

If you witness a civil rights violation within a state owned institution, you have a few options as to how to proceed. A civil rights attorney will be able to explain all your options to you. If the institutionalized person is a close family member or a child, you may be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf. A lawsuit may not only force the institution to correct its practices, but may also force the institution to pay damages for the loss of civil rights.

If you can't speak with an attorney, contact the DOJ using the information on their "special litigation" site. If that fails, alert your local news channels about the issue. The DOJ may then take notice and begin an investigation.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Enforcing your Civil Rights, and on Prisoners' Rights.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney
to help you protect your rights.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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