The conditions were shocking, although certainly not uncommon. Pennhurst State School and Hospital, owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was a typical state residential institution for the retarded. It housed 1,200 residents, most of whom were profoundly retarded with an IQ less than thirty-five. Many were also physically handicapped. These patients were deposited in Pennhurst either as a result of a court order or upon request of a parent or guardian, and once in the institution stayed on average for twenty-one years. While at Pennhurst patients were forced to endure conditions that even the staff conceded fell distressingly far below minimally accepted professional standards. The residents had no privacy, slept in overcrowded wards, spent their waking hours in large dayrooms, and ate in group settings. They conformed to a schedule that allowed no individual flexibility. Overcrowding and inadequate staffing made the physical environment hazardous to the residents. There was often excrement and urine on ward floors. Most toilet areas did not have soap, towels, or toilet paper, and were filthy as well as broken. Obnoxious odors and loud noises filled the atmosphere. Indeed, the noise in the dayrooms was so loud that many residents simply stopped speaking.
The institution utterly failed in providing any education, training, or care for the patients. A resident had one psychological