The Pennhurst State School and Hospital was opened in 1908 as a new model of treating the mentally challenged. Its dual purpose was to segregate and sterilize those deemed "mental defectives" and "feeble minded" from society. Shockingly underfunded and at over twice its capacity of 1300 residents in 1974, a landmark lawsuit was brought against Pennhurst that resulted in the US court demanding its closure and declaring for the first time that "people with mental retardation have a right to live in the community." While some former residents of the institution see it as a place where they could excel and realize dreams, many others have a radically different view - that of a hell on earth, a place where beatings and rapes and disease were rampant, and where they were denied even the most basic human rights and needs. Pennhurst tells the saga of the institution through the people who know it best - its employees, the lawyers that fought the court battles, the caseworkers who handled the aftermath, and more than any of these the people who called it home. Through its inception as a new treatment paradigm to the landmark court cases which shut it down, "Pennhurst" draws parallels between the past and the present, examining the attitudes of society towards the mentally challenged from the early 1900's to the present day.

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