CHICAGO - This morning, U.S. District Court Judge William Hart presides over a fairness hearing to consider a proposed consent decree agreed to by the State of Illinois and a coalition of legal services organizations on behalf of thousands of persons with mental illnesses in Illinois. The case is Williams v. Quinn. Judge Hart gave preliminary approval to the agreement earlier this summer, leading to today's hearing. Under the agreement, approximately 4,300 persons with mental illnesses will be given the choice over the next several year of moving out of the large nursing homes in which they currently reside - known as "Institutions for Mental Disease" (IMD) - and into community-based settings with the support and services each individual needs to be successful. The large, impersonal IMDs are operated in a manner that allows individuals little opportunity for independent living and personal growth. The evaluation and transition of individuals who opt to leave the IMDs will take place over five years, and estimates are that the State of Illinois will save millions of dollars in the process - in part by collecting federal Medicaid reimbursements which are not allowed for residents of IMDs.

The following can be attributed to Benjamin Wolf, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois:

We look forward to today's hearing as a significant step along the path to independence and dignity for thousands of persons with mental illnesses in Illinois. This settlement is about personal choice for our clients. In most other states, government has recognized that there is no for persons with mental illness to be housed in large institutions for extended periods of time. Indeed, once these individuals are able to live and interact in the community, they are able to recover and build life skills - like cooking, taking care of laundry and minding a check book. The Supreme Court and the Americans with Disabilities Act both say that our clients have the right to live in the most integrated setting appropriate. The agreement we have reached with the State creates new opportunities for individuals who want their own homes to leave the IMDs. We hope the agreement is approved shortly, and that we can move toward implementation and a better day for thousands of persons needlessly warehoused in these large institutions.