This paper is a case study of Dixon v. Weinberger -- 74-285, 405 F.Supp. 974 (D.D.C. 1975) -- and its central role in the fight to reform the District of Columbia's mental health system. It follows the struggle from the filing of the lawsuit, which sought community-based treatment for people with mental illness. In December 1975, the courts sided with them and won a federal judicial decree firmly establishing the government's responsibility to provide community-based mental health care for people who did not require hospitalization. This was thought to pave the way for a model program of community-based care. Yet even after their victory, deinstitutionalization remains controversial. Residents of the hospital which triggered the initial lawsuit have watched the mental hospital fall into serious disrepair while promised improvements in community services remain absent.
It then demonstrates how the story of the Dixon case is not a story of willful government resistance to a court decree, but a story of how the government did not fully embrace its legal responsibilities. Through unique factors specific to the District of Columbia such as a mental health system divided between federal and District control and a city government crippled by weak management, limited autonomy and budget difficulties, the case study analyzes the difficult task undertaken by the Dixon litigation and its results, to create a broad mental health system as an alternative to federally controlled mental hospitals.