Letter: Prison as treatment

Recent news articles have exposed the dubious practice of housing civilly committed patients at the Secure Psychiatric Unit in the men’s prison in Concord. The state improperly uses that site as an extension of New Hampshire Hospital. Non-criminals live with felons.

We have created two classes of civilly committed individuals, those who receive good care in a hospital and those who exist in de facto incarceration. The state has a moral obligation to give all its vulnerable citizens equal and proper treatment.

New Hampshire Hospital is eligible for federal funding as an accredited behavioral health care facility. It has an expert multidisciplinary staff and a therapeutic environment under the umbrella of Health and Human Services. The Secure Psychiatric Unit, in contrast, has little expertise in behavioral health management. Correctional officers run it with a paramilitary culture of security and punishment. It is the most restrictive possible venue, and it receives no federal reimbursement.

Using the prison for non-adjudicated people with mental illness shows that the behavioral health system is so fiscally starved that compassion and civil rights are unimportant. The behavioral health needs of New Hampshire have increased dramatically in recent years. The Legislature must fund a suitable forensic behavioral health care facility under Health and Human Services. That’s the best practice everywhere else.

We must never forget the snake pits of the former Laconia State School and, most recently, the Lakeview Rehab Center in Effingham. Prison is an unacceptable option for those who have committed no crimes and are severely mentally ill.



(The writer is a board member and secretary of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform – New Hampshire.)

SOURCE:  http://www.concordmonitor.com/opinion/20498106-95/letter-prison-as-treat...

Jeremy can be reached at secretary@ccjrnh.org