Administering the Dixon Decree from 1975 to 1997

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Guthrie Birkhead


Mental health care, Washington, D.C., Dixon Decree

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Public Administration | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This is a case study of the Dixon Decree issued on December 23, 1975, by Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr., of the Federal District Court, Washington, D.C. Judge Robinson's opinion and accompanying order in the case of Dixon v. Weinberger (1975) are generally known as the Dixon Decree. The opinion and the Decree established that the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia are responsible for providing suitable care and treatment in the least restrictive setting for mentally ill people in the District of Columbia. The opinion applied to people hospitalized in St. Elizabeths Hospital in 1975 and thereafter, or would be subject to hospitalization at St. Elizabeths Hospital. The Decree affirmed the right of persons suffering from mental illness to receive appropriate treatment and services. Dixon was the first deinstitutionalization case in the United States to order community-based treatment for mentally ill clients.

As of this writing, the Decree is still in effect, as modified by several consent decrees, appointment of a special master, and appointment of a receiver.

This study analyzes the Dixon Decree, why it was issued and how it has been administered for 22 years.

This study uses four frameworks to analyze administration of the Decree from 1975 to 1997. These are (1) deinstitutionalization, (2) judicialization, (3) organization and management and (4) the politics of administering the Decree. Each framework directs attention to a factor that has been important in administration of the Decree.


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