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Mississippi fights lawsuit over reliance on mental hospitals

In this Thursday, June 20, 2019 photo, Pamela Kirby, 38, grasps her hands as she reflects in Jackson, Miss., on the combination of physical and mental problems which forced her to take a leave of absence while working on her doctorate at Jackson State University. She said the aggressive community treatment, getting counseling, medication and other support she received enabled her to improve and re-enroll in her program. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. — The federal government is putting Mississippi’s mental health system on trial.

Since June 4, a judge has been hearing arguments and testimony that Mississippi puts too many mentally ill people in state hospitals and doesn’t offer enough community-based treatment.

In 2014, the most recent year with figures available, Mississippi had the nation’s highest per capita number of people in government psychiatric hospitals. Mississippi has closed some hospital beds since then.

Federal officials have warned Mississippi since 2011 that its lack of community treatment options was a problem. Federal officials say Mississippi violates a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said “unjustified” confinement in a mental hospital is illegal.

Mississippi officials say they’re making progress in expanding community treatment, but the federal government is making exorbitant demands that exceed its authority.

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press