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Your Rights During Confinement in a Georgia Institution

Know Your Rights: a Summary of Your Rights During Confinement in a Georgia Mental Health or Developmental Services Institution

Civil rights: You keep all of your civil rights while in a facility, including the right to vote, marry, divorce, file a lawsuit, buy and sell property, keep licenses, etc. Your right to vote and keep some licenses may not apply if you have been convicted of a felony.

Clothing: You have the right to wear your own clothing. The facility must launder or allow you to launder your clothing. The facility must provide you with sufficient and well-fitting personal clothing and shoes if you do not have your own.

Communication: You have the right to use the telephone. If you are deaf, you have a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to a TTY and to a sign language interpreter. You have a right to send and receive mail. Mail sent to you may not be opened unless staff has reason to believe it contains dangerous items. Mail you send cannot be opened or read. Any exceptions must be based on good reason, be approved by the treatment team, and be written in your records. If you do not speak English, foreign language interpreters are required by general due process and ethical and liability considerations.

Community supports: You have a right to receive supports and services in the community when you are discharged so you can live in the community. A discharge to a homeless shelter, for example, violates your rights.

Confidentiality: With few exceptions, the facility cannot tell anyone about your being in the facility unless you consent. Judges and attorneys may be sent reports if you are confined under a criminal case as “incompetent to stand trial” or “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Threats made against a specific person may be told to that person. A person’s guardian has access to records. Your designated representative will receive official notices concerning you, including court actions, continued confinement, and notice of discharge.

Counsel: You have the right to the assistance of an attorney during any hearing to decide if your confinement will be extended. It is the duty of the judge or hearing officer to ensure you have an attorney. Fill out Form 1035 to request one.

Due process: You have the right to periodic hearings to have a court decide whether your confinement will continue.

Education: You have the right to continue your education if you are of school age or have an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). The facility must abide by your IEP.

Fresh air: You have the right to go outside every day for fresh air unless there is an emergency.

Informed consent: The benefits, risks, and side effects of any medication or treatment must be disclosed to you. You have the right to refuse treatment, including medication. Your refusal can be overridden under Georgia law only if the facility can prove that you are unsafe. (OCGA 37-3-163) (“OCGA” refers to the Official Code of Georgia)

Medical care: You have the right to prompt and proper care for all medical and dental needs.

Mental health care: You have the right to a plan of treatment that addresses your mental health needs and that will help you to be discharged as soon as possible. You have the right to help plan your treatment and to know the goals to be met for your discharge.

No retaliation: You cannot be punished for reporting abuse, neglect, or rights violations.

Nutrition: You have the right to three regular meals a day that meet all of your dietary needs. If you have a special diet due to your religious beliefs or a medical condition, you must be offered a special diet.

Olmstead Implementation: In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that Georgia violated the rights of two people by isolating them in an institution when they could have lived in their own homes with supports and services. If you have been in a facility without a criminal court hold for more than 60 days, you have special rights to be considered for discharge with supports to help you live in the community. You can tell your treatment team that you want to be on the “Olmstead” list.

Physical restraints and seclusion: These are allowed as a last resort and only in emergencies when a physician orders it in writing to prevent serious injury to you or others. The use of restraints must end as soon as the danger of serious injury ends. Any order for physical restraints expires after 24 hours, then a physician must make a new determination after examining you. Use of physical restraints by other staff must be reported immediately to a physician or psychologist. A person in seclusion or restraints must be checked by trained staff at least every 30 minutes, must receive meals on a regular basis, and must be allowed to use the bathroom as needed. (OCGA 37-3-165; Rule 290-4-.02) (“Rule” refers to the State Rules and Regulations of the Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.)

Private property: You may spend your own money. You may keep your personal belongings, if they are not a security threat, subject to space availability. The facility cannot take your money for payment of fees without due process in court, or unless you, your guardian, or a Representative designated by the Social Security Administration gives consent.

Qualified rights: Rights are not absolute. In some situations, the state can override our rights, but usually only when required to protect life, health, maintain safe conditions, and, to a lesser degree, to protect property.

Religion: You have the right to believe as you wish and to worship in ways that do not harm you or others.

Review of records: You have the right to review your record, get a copy of your record, and to have any errors corrected or noted. Your treatment team may suspend this right temporarily in a written order only if required by your situation.

Right to sue: If you believe your rights have been violated or will be violated, you have the right to sue to stop the violation and to seek damages. You must sue within the statute of limitations, or you will lose your right to sue.

Safety: You have the right to be safe. You have the right to be free from harm by others. You have the right to be free from hazards that could hurt you.

Searches: You cannot be searched without a reason. Any searches while unclothed must be done in a private setting. You have the right to be present during a search of your belongings.

Visitors: You have the right to have visitors during reasonable visiting times. You can also refuse to see a visitor. Any restriction must be ordered in writing by your treatment team.

Work: If you are in a work program at the facility, you must be paid fairly for your work. You may also decline to work.


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