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Prisons Rife with Mentally Ill Offenders

This is a discussion on Prisons Rife with Mentally Ill Offenders within the Today's News forums, part of the Public Discussions category; Prisons rife with mentally ill | New Haven (CT) Register Gregory B. Hladky , Capitol Bureau Chief 09/30/2007 HARTFORD — ...

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    Prisons Rife with Mentally Ill Offenders

    Prisons rife with mentally ill | New Haven (CT) Register

    Gregory B. Hladky , Capitol Bureau Chief
    HARTFORD — One of the major problems facing the state’s prison system as it struggles to deal with issues of parole and overcrowding is what to do with the increasing number of mentally ill inmates behind bars.
    According to a recent legislative research report, more than 20 percent of the state’s approximately 19,000 inmates have moderate to severe mental illness.

    Lawmakers say there is a shortage of trained psychiatric nurses and a need for more training of corrections officers who must deal with mentally ill inmates.

    There is also a debate about whether the state needs a new prison hospital.

    Several legislators also are raising questions about how the University of Connecticut’s Medical Center is handling its $100-million-a-year state contract to provide inmate medical services. They claim expensive medications for mentally ill inmates have been restricted in recent years in an effort to cut costs.

    Earlier this month, state Corrections Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz warned legislators that she is already "running out of space" and cited the growing number mentally ill inmates as one key reason.

    Lantz said the option the state should consider is construction of a $150 million, 1,200-bed prison medical facility. She said there are already 1,000 inmates with mental illnesses and chronic diseases that could be housed in such a facility and that it probably would be at capacity by the time it could be built.

    But Gov. M. Jodi Rell sent a letter to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee last week saying "there are no current or expected plans to construct any new facilities" for the prison system.

    "I don’t need it right now," Lantz said, concerning a new prison medical facility. "I wouldn’t say we’re in a crisis."

    Yet Lantz acknowledges there are shortages of nurses within the state’s inmate health care system as there are in hospitals all across the state. She said UConn’s Correctional Managed Health Care operation is now filling some of the vacancies in its mental health staff for inmates.

    According to corrections officials, there are 190 authorized mental health staff positions for the prison system, with 16 vacancies for full-time positions and four vacant part-time positions.

    The 2006 General Assembly responded to the increase in the number of mentally ill patients by passing a bill to require additional psychiatric training for corrections officers, a move Lantz says she supports.

    But Lantz said she isn’t aware of any complaints that the medical center has attempted to cut costs by restricting the medications given to mentally ill patients.

    "I think UConn is providing appropriate care," said Lantz.

    Officials at the UConn Medical Center declined to comment on the shortage of psychiatric nurses for inmate care or on the allegations of efforts to cut costs by restricting medications for mentally ill inmates.

    Kristina Goodnough, a spokeswoman for the medical center, referred all questions to state officials.

    Rell has declined an invitation to meet with the legislature’s Judiciary Committee Monday to discuss her decision to revoke parole for violent offenders and place new restrictions on other parolees. But Lantz is scheduled to appear in place of the governor and is likely to face questions about potential prison overcrowding and inmate care issues.

    State officials have been struggling with issues involving sentencing, parole and potential prison overcrowding since the Cheshire home invasion and triple homicide in late July. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the two paroled burglars charged with the killings.

    Rell has said violent offenders should be kept in prison longer and that overcrowding can be avoided by sending as many as 1,200 nonviolent inmates to halfway houses or other forms of alternative sentencing.

    Separating mentally ill prisoners could help

    Many lawmakers, corrections union officials and advocates for the mentally ill argue the prison population could be dramatically reduced if there were someplace else to care for the mentally ill.

    "We’ve become society’s mental health provider," said Steve Curran, a longtime corrections officer at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, where the most seriously mentally ill inmates are housed.

    Lantz said she designated Garner as a facility to house mentally ill inmates after becoming commissioner. She said that about 450 of the 554 inmates incarcerated at Garner are classified as having mental health problems.

    But, insists Lantz, "I’m not running a mental-health hospital."

    Curran, who also is secretary of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1565, said corrections officers must regard mentally ill inmates as prisoners first, while the nurses "are treating them as clients and patients."

    Curran believes prosecutors and judges are constantly sending mentally ill people to prison for minor offenses because there is no place else they can receive care.

    State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, said the increase of mentally ill people in prisons has become a national phenomenon.

    "Everybody calls the police when someone becomes disruptive, and those people are often mentally ill," said Dillon.

    One former prosecutor-turned-lawmaker, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, agrees. He said homeless individuals who trespass, urinate in public or cause other disturbances, are often sent to prison as a last resort.

    "Because there seems to be no other options, they end up being dumped in jail," said Lawlor, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

    "If you want to free up prison beds (to keep violent offenders behind bars longer), then get these mentally ill people out of there," Lawlor said.

    "I question whether we’re incarcerating the right people for the right reasons," said Deputy House Majority Leader Toni Walker, D-New Haven.

    Inmate Mental Health Costs are soaring

    A study by the Office of Legislative Research found that between 2002 and 2007, the number of Connecticut inmates with moderate to severe mental health problems increased by more than 6 percent.

    One of the factors involved in the increase of mentally ill inmates is that Connecticut, like many states, closed down its institutions for the mentally ill in the 1980s. The intent was to halt institutional "warehousing" of people with mental health problems, but one side-effect was that many of those who were released ended up homeless.

    Connecticut’s costs for caring for mentally ill people in its prisons have been rising steadily.

    The state’s budget for overall inmate medical care rose from $77.4 million in 2003-04 to $99.7 million for the current fiscal year, and Walker says care for the mentally ill has played a significant role in that increase.

    UConn’s Correctional Managed Health Care took over inmate health care during the administration of former Gov. John G. Rowland and it has now become the state’s largest single medical care provider.

    Walker is chairwoman of a legislative subcommittee that deals with appropriations for the corrections agency and said she has been concerned by the rapid increase in costs for the state corrections contract with the UConn Medical Center.

    The UConn Medical Center has encountered major financial problems in recent years and sought additional funding from the legislature this year.

    According to Walker, the state’s prison population has remained relatively stable during the same period that has seen a 22 percent increase in inmate health care costs. Increasing costs for health care in general have become a massive national issue, but Walker said inmate mental health costs have become extraordinarily expensive.

    In the most recent state budget, officials explained the $9.6 million increase in allocations for inmate care in part because of a 7 percent rise in spending on pharmaceuticals.

    According to Lawlor, UConn Medical Center officials have become "very stingy about the services they provide" to state inmates because of their concerns about rising expenses.

    Dillon said she was involved two years ago in one case involving a mentally ill woman from Branford. The woman had been living on the streets and had been receiving medication for five years when she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge and sent to prison.

    When the female inmate was refused any medication, her family contacted Dillon for help. "There was a lot of resistance (from UConn officials) because of the cost of pharmaceuticals in their budget," said Dillon.

    According to Dillon, the woman was eventually discharged to a halfway house and her medications were resumed. But Dillon said that might not have been the best possible solution.

    "She started drinking again and doing drugs and ended up back on the streets," recalled Dillon.

    Both Lawlor and Dillon said they are wary of suggestions the state needs to build a costly new prison facility for the mentally ill.

    Lawlor said he’s worried construction of a prison hospital for the mentally ill would side track efforts to get those people out of the system. "They’ll send everybody there," he said.

    Dillon believes it makes no sense to build a new hospital when the state corrections system can’t attract or keep enough psychiatric professionals right now.

    "We have to make decisions about who we let out of prison," Dillon said of the dilemma posed by mentally ill inmates. "But how can we make those decisions if we don’t have the staff we need?"

    Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or at (850) 524-0719.
    Last edited by Greg; 10-02-2007 at 03:49 PM. Reason: spelling error

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    Re: Prisons Rifte with Mentally Ill Offenders

    We have many doing the "Thorozene Shuffle" at our institution. Keep them so doped up they don't realize where they are at..easier to keep an eye on that way. Especially the violent offenders, makes staff and other inmates lives alot easier..lol!

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    Re: Prisons Rifte with Mentally Ill Offenders

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobshouse View Post
    We have many doing the "Thorozene Shuffle" at our institution. Keep them so doped up they don't realize where they are at..easier to keep an eye on that way. Especially the violent offenders, makes staff and other inmates lives alot easier..lol!
    I remember when tobacco would calm them down just as much as some of the more expensive stuff. Give one a cigarrette and he would be content.



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