The Public Interest

The “right to treatment”: can the courts rehabilitate and cure?

Harry L. Miller

Winter 1977

OVER a decade ago, a determined band of reformers began an attack on the state institutions for the mentally ill, the delinquent, and the criminal. This movement developed partly out of what has been called a “romance with the community,” an ardor that infected many mental-health professionals and led to a vigorous “community mental health” movement (that ultimately failed to deliver on its vastly inflated promises). Joining the crusade were an assortment of activist groups committed to the basic beliefs of upper-middle-class radicalism: the sanctity of the individual, the absolute priority of the needs of minorities and the poor, and a distrust of institutional ways of dealing with social issues.  Since most of those confined by the states were “minority poor,” and since the facilities were easy targets for flamboyant rhetorical charges (“warehousing people”), the state institutions were attractive targets for advocacy groups. Substantially fueled with federal grants from a variety of agencies, the reform movement has by now a very solid status and an air of permanency.

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