Wyatt v. Sawyer

Case Number


Enforcing a humane standard of care
For more than 30 years, Alabama's mental health care system has remained under the supervision of the federal court.

In 1970, lawyers and mental health workers filed a class action lawsuit to help Ricky Wyatt and other mental health patients confined to state hospitals. District Court Judge Frank Johnson found that the facilities were "grossly deficient and failed to satisfy minimum medical and constitutional standards."

Patients were confined to dirty and overcrowded spaces, the facilities were inadequately staffed, the non-professional staff was inadequately trained and the psychological and physical environment was inhumane, the judge said.

In one of several "expansive and landmark opinions," the judge ruled that civilly committed mental health patients "unquestionably have a constitutional right to receive such individual treatment as will give each of them a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve his or her mental conditions."

Judge Johnson held hearings with mental health experts from across the nation to establish minimum standards of care for all mentally ill and mentally retarded persons committed to the state's care. The standards have become known as "the Wyatt standards."

Since 1972, lawyers from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health, the Center and others have worked to force Alabama to comply with those standards.