"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

- United States Declaration of Independence

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Massachusetts’ Civil Rights Crisis, Part 2 – The Five Fundamental Rights

Second Post – What Violations Look Like

This is the second in a series of posts that describe the ONLY law that protects basic civil rights in Massachusetts - a law that has been forgotten. Violations are the rule, not the exception. This post describes the (commonly seen) violations that do happen.

What do you see in your State or Country?

What Violations of the Five Fundamental Rights (5FRs) law look like:

Sadly, many of these violations are based on reality – they happen on a regular basis.

Violations of Fundamental Right #1 - Access to Telephones:
- Phones are in public places, such as hallways or dining areas.
- Phones are located near or at nurses' stations, so staff can monitor conversations; staff members listen in on calls.
- Calls are kept unreasonably short.
- Phones are shut off (often during ‘groups’); or private phone areas are locked.
- Staff will not provide money/assistance to make calls.

Violations of Fundamental Right #2 - Access to Mail:
- Mail is opened without the patient present.
- Mail is read by staff.
- Mail is opened for any reason beside suspected transmission of contraband.
- Staff refuses to provide writing materials, such as pen and paper, or postage, on request.

Violations of Fundamental Right #3 - Access to Visitors:
- Visiting hours and visits are kept extremely short.
- Visits are only allowed in common areas, such as dining rooms or hallways.
- Staff members are present during a visit.
- Visiting times are not flexible enough to accommodate patients and visitors.

Violations of Fundamental Right #4 - Humane Physical and Psychological Environment:
- Denial of a safe, private space for resting and sleeping.
- Observation by staff while bathing, using the bathroom, or dressing/undressing.
- Placement (esp. in group homes) with roommates who may endanger a patients’ health and wellbeing; staff is insensitive to trauma issues.
- Shared bathing facilities (i.e., group showers or toilets).

Violations of Fundamental Right #5 - Visits with Lawyers and Outside Care Providers:
- Patients can’t receive or refuse visits from attorneys, outpatient physicians, therapists or clergy.
- Staff won’t allow such visits to occur outside of normal visiting hours.
- On admission or on request afterwards, the patient isn’t given information about free legal services, or staff doesn’t help patients in contacting these services.
- An attorney, if given permission by the patient, is denied access to the client, his/her record; or staff responsible for treatment and care. Also, if that attorney isn’t allowed to attend meetings where the client is present.

Violations of Other Provisions of “Five Fundamental Rights” Law:
- The “Five Fundamental Rights” are not posted in a prominent place, or they are hard to understand or read. Non-English speakers can’t have the rights translated.
- A copy of these rights are requested, but staff refuses to provide it.
- Patients can’t wear their own clothes, keep possessions and money, or don’t have private storage space.
- Patients cannot refuse ECT.


Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (Boston)

Intake Hours
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays

Intake LinePhone: (617) 338-2345 press "1" Toll Free Phone:1-800-342-9092 press "1"

Email: MHLAC@mhlac.org

Disability Law Center (Protection and Advocacy agency in Massachusetts)

(Main) Office, Boston:
Phone: (617) 723-8455
Toll Free Phone: (800) 872-9992

TTY: (617) 227-9464
Toll Free TTY: (800) 381-0577
FAX: (617) 723-9125

Western Mass. Office, Northampton:
Phone: (413) 584-6337
Toll Free Phone: (800) 222-5619 Voice
TTY: (413) 582-6919
FAX: (413) 584-2976

E-mail: mail@dlc-ma.org

Center for Public Representation (Newton and Northampton)

Newton, MA Office:
Phone: (617) 965-0776
Fax: (617) 928-0971

Northampton, MA Office:
Phone and TTY: (413) 586-6024
Fax: (413) 586-5711

Email: info@cpr-ma.org


Disabled Persons’ Protection Commission (DPPC) 24-Hour HOTLINE:

Phone/TTY: 1-800-426-9009

The next post will look into the history of the law, and how and why it is so brazenly ignored.

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