On Tuesday night, Farhat Chishty got the news: The U.S. Department of Justice, after months of investigating, had completed a scathing report on the Texas State Schools for the disabled and was threatening to sue the state for violating residents' constitutional rights. Chishty, whose crusade to improve conditions after her son Haseeb's brutal beating at the hands of a Denton State School staffer was chronicled in the paper version of Unfair Park in July, sat down at her computer to read the feds' 65-page report. By the time she finished, it was past midnight.
"I was shivering," she tells Unfair Park. "I was crying."
The portrayal of the isolated and dated mental institutions reads like a litany of medieval horrors, with staffers neglecting to notice residents ingesting non-food items such as latex gloves and, in two cases, Swiss Army knives; failing to prevent falls or self-inflicted injuries; denying adequate medical care and overusing restraints and straight jackets, in some cases to the point of breaking bones in the process. Chishty, who had long felt like a lone voice speaking out against the system, says she has mixed emotions about the report.
"I'm really happy, but at the same time very sad," she says.
While she feels vindicated by the feds' damning conclusions, she suspects that the investigators' results are merely the tip of the iceberg.
"I thought, 'At least now somebody put the nail in the system,'" she says. "But whatever they're finding, the actual situation is 100 times worse."
She also wonders why there wasn't more specific criticism of the Denton State School, which the report points out was cited during an April inspection for 25 violations of federal standards.
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"In my opinion," she says, "the system is so broken, it cannot be repaired. I'm still not sure if justice is going to be served. The conditions are worse than in the report. The Department of Aging and Disability Services should be prosecuted for systematic torture, death and neglect."
Laura Albrecht, a spokesman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services, told The Dallas Morning News that the agency was reviewing the report and would make an effort to comply with the recommended improvements. "We're continuing our good faith negotiations and collaborative efforts with the Department of Justice," she was quoted as saying.
Chishty bristled at that statement, saying she hopes the schools will be completely disbanded and converted to the community or group-home facilities used in other states.
"I believe the community or group home is a good option, but it needs to be tightly regulated," she says. "And there needs to be adequate funding. We treat dogs and cats better than we treat people in the institutions." --Megan Feldman